The newly-developed industry-specific apprenticeship standard saw its first wave of participants begin their training in February of this year. In more normal times, this piece would have given a detailed update on the pioneering programme, but a lot has changed since then, with the global Covid-19 pandemic transforming the workplace setting as we know it.
Businesses in the catering equipment industry, and indeed beyond, have found themselves in unprecedented situations. In our sector some are facing temporary shutdowns, many are trying to find new ways of doing business, most have adopted the government’s job retention (furlough) scheme, and engineers are working flat out to ensure essential equipment is installed and repaired. The current circumstance is certainly very different from what it was just a few months ago when the apprentices started out on their venture.
Furthermore, all those on the Catering Equipment and Service Technician Apprenticeship, bar one, have been furloughed by their respective companies.
The good news for the recruits, and the programme, is that The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is allowing the continued learning/training of furloughed apprentices as per their Covid-19 apprentice provider guidelines. This is backed up by The Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education which agrees that training can still be completed for a furloughed worker.
On this proviso, training providers ECTA have been sending the apprenticeship engineers regular work to complete online. It is believed the current remote learning status can be sustained for a good few months as there is a lot of material to get through; they have already been set a number of H&S tasks, and there are tests in the pipeline to see what they have learnt from their assignments.
CEDA reported that all the apprentices are happy with the work being set and are using their time wisely and doing as much reading as possible, albeit they are a little frustrated at not being able to work, as they all prefer to be hands-on.
Chris Williams, an install engineer for HB Catering and Refrigeration said: “On the work side of things, I’m just hoping our customers aren’t hit too hard with the obvious closures, so our jobs are secure when we return to some sort of normal. On a personal level, I’m based in the valleys of Swansea; everyone seems to be taking on house work, exercise and of course college work. Spirits are fairly good.”
Williams has been with HB Catering and Refrigeration for 2 years and when the opportunity to join the new apprenticeship course came along, he felt it was time to step into a frontline role. He added: “The course will allow me to become fully qualified. Before this, there was no specific training course for gas and catering engineers. Whilst my role is mainly gas focused, having a good knowledge of electrical workings will come in handy. I’m really pleased the new scheme is happening; it’s a positive step for the industry and will help young apprentices get better jobs in the future.”
While Damian Russell of Gratte Brothers commented: “I’m ok, I’m just finding it hard to get motivated being on lockdown. The work being set is keeping me busy.”
Russell jumped at the chance to move up from his position in the warehouse at Gratte Brothers, where he had been for 3 years, to become an engineer for the company. He had been working as a service and projects engineer for 5 months before the Catering Equipment and Service Technician Apprenticeship began. “I have been working between projects and service (installing and repairing), but I want to go further than this and have expert knowledge.
“The new accreditation will allow me to focus on the two areas I’m particularly interested in; gas and electrics, and ultimately, to go out on my own to do installs, giving me more job independence and responsibility. The qualification will also allow me to safely do the job to the best of my ability and to the highest standards. I think it’s a great development that will strengthen the industry and raise standards across the board.”
Another participant, James Crosley of Archer Catering Systems, said, “I’m not too bad, I’m finding it hard to get going at the moment with not working. I just want all this to be over and to get back to normal again.”
Crosley is very new to the industry, having only been with Archer for 12 months. He feels it’s been the best thing he has done as it’s given him the opportunity to develop new skills, learn new things in the industry and create a better life for his family. “I want to gain all the qualifications I can to progress my career at Archers. Everyone here has been hugely supportive and opened my eyes to opportunities within the industry.”
On the service side of engineering, he is a trained refrigerator engineer. He wants to continue with this whilst developing his understanding of gas and plumbing and gain more in-depth electrical knowledge. “The extra qualification will allow me to do more work on my own. So far, I’ve only ever done little jobs and I’m keen to expand what I can do and step-up to the next level. It will definitely help boost my confidence to know I can successfully do the job at hand.”
The Catering Equipment and Service Technician Apprenticeship is delivered on a block release basis (1 week in the training centre every 8 weeks). Any of the block ECTA centre weeks will be rescheduled when lockdown rules are relaxed so learners will not miss out.
It is hoped that future intakes of the apprenticeship scheme will begin once lockdown sanctions are lifted and businesses begin to trade again. For those interested in the new industry specific scheme, a full information pack is available from Peter Kay at CEDA.