Having never been to university myself, I can say that ‘on the job’ training is something close to my heart. Not everyone wants to (or can afford to) enter higher education and there are many roles that don’t require such academic study – rather a more practical, hands-on approach.
This is no different for the catering equipment industry, where fabrication, installation and maintenance skills were historically taught through apprenticeship courses, combining learning with earning. These schemes fell out of vogue in the past couple of decades, with the result that student numbers coming through dwindled. Bigger firms were able to poach the cream of young talent but the smaller enterprises were left scrabbling around for staff.
However, apprenticeships are now making a comeback. In recent months, distributor Crosbys Catering Equipment has hired more apprentices, after promoting a previous set, while the Catering Design Group has been offering design placements for local students. Furthermore, manufacturer Meiko has employed its first apprentice engineer, on a 3-year scheme.
As we reported in our May issue, Gloucester-based Target Catering Equipment has helped to develop a fabrication apprenticeship alongside Gloucester Engineering Training, and has taken on a student involved in this. The path was not easy though, and Target had to campaign to create a format that ensured it would not be left out of pocket if the apprentice decided to discontinue his training.
However, these types of co-ordinated endeavours remain few and far between. Indeed, one catering equipment distributor recently bemoaned on this very website that there are no nationwide courses for engineering apprentices at local colleges. A lack of easily-accessible courses discourages the next generation from entering this industry.
As a ‘newbie’, I was also surprised to learn that there is no legal requirement for electrical engineers to have a formal qualification. They only have the nebulous obligation of proving they are competent, unlike gas technicians, where the Gas Safe scheme has been in place for many years. Why should electricity be thought of as any different to gas when both do, and have, killed some unfortunate technicians in this industry?
The CEDA and CESA-developed electrical competency course has gone some way towards improving the situation, with nearly 150 people already passing it, but more still needs to be done.
How many other electrical engineers in the catering equipment industry are walking around without an official, specific qualification? That isn’t to say that they haven’t learned their trade on the job, a process which, as I have mentioned, I support wholeheartedly. Just that a nationally required standard would ensure a uniform competency. Putting current and future technicians at grave risk is not acceptable.