CEDA held a technical forum during its annual conference at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate last Wednesday.
During the session, CEDA technical support advisor Peter Kay revealed that a recent survey of members showed that in the 20 replies received, between them they had vacancies for 54 service engineers and 11 installation engineers.
Extrapolating those results to the association’s full membership gives an estimate of 100-150 service engineers and 20-30 installation engineers, with Kay believing the figures for the entire industry could be at least double that.
He analysed: “What engineers are available are either likely to be poor quality or if they are good engineers, they will be looking for high salaries and I very much doubt that there are those sort of numbers looking for work.”
Therefore Kay suggested several steps that servicing companies and distributors can take to plug those gaps in their engineer roster.
In the short term, he recommended working with other CEDA members as part of the CEDAAssist programme, which enables companies to cover service and repair work in their areas on behalf of fellow members.
Kay underlined: “All this is done on the strict understanding that the provider of services will look after the interests of the member that they are working on behalf of.”
However, in the long term he suggested taking on apprentices, detailing: “CEDA has been instrumental in setting up an apprenticeship which takes 30 months and results in a gas qualified engineer who is electrically competent and who has good fault finding skills and a good general knowledge of most types of equipment.”
The apprenticeship is 95% funded by government which leaves the distributor or servicing company to cover the 5% (£750), wages and travel expenses. However, this is only available for apprentices who work at least 50% of their time in England. Kay added: “We have spoken to the apprenticeship bodies for the devolved nations but they are not really interested in developing apprenticeship standards for catering equipment engineers as they say there is insufficient demand.”
CEDA has also produced guidance on how to recruit suitable candidates as part of an information pack.
Kay further detailed: “Due to the paltry funding, we have only been able to find one apprenticeship training provider who will deliver the apprenticeship, and they are based in Stockport. In view of this, the practical training and some of the classroom work is done on a block release basis of one week in eight in the training centre and the rest, excluding employer delivered training, is done on line.”
CEDA’s first cohort started on 25 February 2020, and although the pandemic meant that redundancies and loss of interest due to limited face to face time with trainers reduced participant numbers, over half the cohort are still working on their apprenticeships, with a further cohort of around 20 apprentices having started in September.
According to Kay: “Apprentices will cost you a lot less than experienced engineers but will soon be productive for you. A couple of members who already had apprentices on the scheme said that employers had to take a long term view, however, they were using apprentices as a second pair of hands for two man jobs, therefore saving the cost of using a qualified engineer.”