Air conditioning and refrigeration engineers use technical knowledge and practical skills to ensure that products such as heat pumps and refrigerant gases are handled in a safe and eco-friendly way, reducing the impact on the environment as much as possible. From maintaining a comfortable air temperature and humidity in a multi-screen cinema to keeping blood at the right temperature for lifesaving operations, the air conditioning and refrigeration industry covers a wide range of activities.
The work can be divided into two areas:
Refrigeration engineers install, service and maintain refrigeration systems in locations such as supermarkets, hospitals, food processing plants and research establishments.
Air conditioning engineers install, service and maintain systems and equipment which maintain the quality, temperature and humidity within buildings.
The work of an air conditioning and refrigeration engineer may involve:
Air conditioning and refrigeration engineers generally work between 37 and 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. They need to be flexible, as the hours worked will depend on the project, priorities and deadlines. They may sometimes have to work at weekends and at night. Some engineers work freelance or on short-term contracts and, as a result, working hours can vary from one week to another.
The job can involve working inside and outside, for example on the roofs of buildings, sometimes in cramped and uncomfortable positions. For some projects, ladders and scaffolding may be required.
The air conditioning and refrigeration industry usually involves working locally, travelling from one project to the next. However, some firms may require engineers to stay away from home for short or long periods. A driving licence may be useful.
First-year apprentices may start on around £10,000 a year.
Newly qualified workers may earn between £20,000 and £27,000 a year. More experienced engineers may earn around £30,000 a year or more.
Some employers may pay higher wages or reward workers through the use of bonus schemes. Overtime is often available. National rates are set for travelling time, travel expenses and the cost of accommodation.
The air conditioning and refrigeration industry is part of the building services engineering sector. There are around 4,500 businesses in the industry, employing around 24,000 people. The number of employment opportunities varies and depends on the strength of the economy.
Employers range from small or medium-sized companies that employ a handful of engineers to national, multi-service companies that employ thousands worldwide.
Vacancies for qualified engineers are usually advertised in local newspapers, Jobcentre Plus offices, and recruitment agency websites. It is also advisable to approach local companies direct to enquire about job opportunities.
It may be possible to gain an insight into the industry through a work experience placement whilst still at school.
The air conditioning and refrigeration industry requires candidates to achieve the relevant NVQ at Level 2 or 3 and a technical certificate in order to attain qualified operative status. Most people start as an apprentice straight from school or college and gain these qualifications whilst working. Apprenticeships at Level 2 and Advanced Apprenticeships at Level 3 in air conditioning and refrigeration may be available.
Applicants for Apprenticeships are expected to have a minimum of three GCSE's (A*-C), or the Diploma in either construction and the built environment or engineering at higher level. Applicants have to pass a colour vision test and may also have to take an aptitude test.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
SummitSkills is the Sector Skills Council for the building services engineering sector. Further information on careers, training and qualifications in this industry is available on the SummitSkills careers website at www.goodday.org.uk
Apprentices train on the job, spending time working alongside an experienced engineer. This is combined with off-the-job training in the form of day or block release at a college or training centre. Training typically lasts between two and four years.
Apprenticeships lead to:
Advanced Apprenticeships lead to:
Apprentices are also expected to gain key skills in the application of number and communication at Level 2, and information technology at Level 1. Employment rights and responsibilities, F-Gas regulation, and the safe handling of refrigerants are also covered as part of the training scheme.
Refrigeration and air conditioning engineers are expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) throughout their career in order to keep up to date with changes in legislation and technology. They may apply to become members of the Institute of Refrigeration.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
Refrigeration and air conditioning engineers should:
Once qualified at Level 3 there are opportunities to gain higher-level qualifications, such as a HNC, HND, foundation degree or degree in building services engineering. These may lead to progression into technician, supervisory management or professional building services engineering roles.
Some engineers may move into design consultancy or teaching. Many qualified people run their own businesses.
Air Conditioning and Refrigeration
Industry Board (ACRIB),
Kelvin House, 76 Mill Lane,
Carshalton, Surrey SM5 2JR
Tel: 020 8254 7842
Building Engineering Services Association,
Lincoln House, 137-143 Hammersmith Road,
London W14 0QL
Tel: 020 7313 4900
Institute of Refrigeration (IOR),
Kelvin House, 76 Mill Lane,
Carshalton, Surrey SM5 2JR
Tel: 020 8647 7033
SummitSkills, Vega House, Opal Drive,
Fox Milne, Milton Keynes MK15 0DF
Careers Helpline: 08000 688336
Women Into Science, Engineering
and Construction (WISE),
2nd floor Weston House,
246 High Holborn,
London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0408
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.