In the Air-Conditioning and Mechanical Services sector it’s critical to provide on-the-job training in more than flexi duct and lagging pipe. Natalie Reynolds, Master Plumbers Group Training Manager, details requirements to be considered when employing apprentices.

Mechanical Services is extremely broad. The current training package includes Medical Gas, the domestic installation of split systems and the installation of high-rise heating and cooling systems. When apprentices are employed in this field, employers need to be aware that their future need for skilled labour depends entirely on the variety and level of training they provide.

Apprentices are a good option for installing flexi duct and lagging pipes on large commercial construction projects, but it is critically important they work in plant and boiler rooms, and are exposed to the whole trade. Without this experience it can be hard for them to pass the registration exams and obtain registration in this field. In domestic, the situation is different but the variety of on the job work is still a necessity. Providing this breadth can be difficult as plumbing businesses continue to specialise.

Depending on the Registered Training Organisation (RTO), an apprentice will do up to six streams to achieve registration, providing they pass the examination, which occurs at the direction of the relevant State Building or Licensing authority.

Master Plumbers – Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria (PAV) has had apprentices apply for jobs with us without completing the Mechanical Stream at their RTO, despite extensive work experience in the mechanical field. It is alarming that these apprentices believe the mechanical stream is simply hanging duct and lagging pipes. Qualified mechanical services plumbers are responsible for more than that, they are responsible for the design and installation of significant system components.

If apprentices find themselves in this situation in 4th year, which is usually when they realise they haven’t learned enough about plumbing, it can be difficult to manage.

To skill up apprentices for a future in Mechanical Services, employers must:

• Contact the RTO to ensure the apprentice is enrolled in the Mechanical Services stream;

• Ensure that apprentices are taught best practice across the whole stream; • Where applicable, give the apprentice a variety of work – domestic and commercial – so they can learn different systems, aspects of design and become highly skilled;

• Ensure they have the experience on the job in other compulsory fields that are a pre-requisite for registration in your state, which can include water, gas and roofing.

Following these guidelines can be difficult with the ongoing specialisation of the plumbing industry. This is why many employers are starting to look afresh at the Group Training Model where an apprentice is employed by a Group Training Organisation and plumbers in different areas of specialty host the apprentice for periods of time. These rotations ensure apprentices obtain experience in a variety of fields. There is a GTO run by each Master Plumbers Association in most states, including PAV in Victoria, Master Plumbers’ GTS in South Australia, MPAL Apprentices in NSW.