September 13th, 2011
Assuring trade skills competency the Chillex way
“Mike, there’s no need to rush mate - you’ve got plenty of time to learn and you’ll be ready to sit your final electrical component test in a year. Nice job on your assignment. You’ve done well.”
It’s a Saturday morning and seated around the lunchroom table with Cam Crawford, managing director
of Chillex Group
in Onehunga, Auckland, are five of his six current apprentices – they agreed to these sessions as a condition of their employment and they seem eager for Cam’s time.
One Saturday morning every month, Cam meets with his apprentices to help them do their assessments and set training targets as they work toward their refrigeration or heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) apprenticeships.
And it’s clear Cam knows exactly where the apprentices present – Michael, Manase, Neill, Talai and Tevita - are at with their individual training progress and skills development. It’s part of his plan to be certain each of them fully understands the skills and knowledge required before he signs them off as competent.
Cam is also registered with Competenz as a workplace assessor, so he realises the importance of focusing on and managing his apprentices’ on-job and off-job learning effectively.
“In my experience it pays to take responsibility for and be disciplined in managing your apprentices’ progress,” explains Cam.
“For example, I say that our apprentices must complete their correspondence work before I’m comfortable booking them in for their block courses.
“To me it’s really important they get that underpinning knowledge under their belt first, so we know they’ll succeed and get through the block course with confidence.”
At any given time he knows what on-job skill gaps they need to work on, and paces each apprentice’s learning to suit their needs while also ensuring they stay on track with their respective training plans.
“The reality is each apprentice must have their training plan paced to suit their learning speed and capabilities – that’s where that personal interaction between the employer and the apprentice becomes crucial.”
He thumbs through a slightly tattered 1B5 book, and inside are details documenting every Saturday session he’s ever had with his apprentices since 2003.
There isn’t much he can’t tell you about all of his apprentices over the years - from the evidence apprentices collected to support their assessments, to which unit standards they were assessed on and when, and even what work experience they need to brush up on.
“Manase, we need to get you down to that sheet metal ductwork shop so you can work on your fabrication skills and ductwork task sheets over the next couple of weeks. Sound good, mate?
“Neill, you’ve got one really strong evidence case study here from the BNZ Highbrook job, but we’d agreed you’d need two before I’d sign you off – go away and make sure you get that second example completed for our next meeting.”
The word ‘evidence’ is mentioned multiple times throughout the session. Cam can’t stress enough the importance of gathering evidence to his apprentices to support their on-job assessments.
“Evidence is everything in on-job learning; what better way is there to show competent means competent when it comes to your ability to do a task and do it well?
“Encourage your apprentices to get into the habit of collecting evidence while they’re out working in the field.
“They should take photos, get their hands on engineering drawings or building plans, and ask the site supervisor to verify their work or put in writing the skills they saw them exercise while working on the project,” says Cam.
“The camera won’t lie about your workmanship, and nor will a site supervisor who wants nothing more than your employee to do the job well and to specification on their behalf.”
Competenz account manager, Bevan Prince
, is also here recording each apprentices’ training progress and new agreed targets, and providing Cam with some vital assessment support.
“Bevan understands our approach and supports us by attending all our Saturday sessions, and over the years he’s become part of the team,” says Cam.
“However I believe that, ultimately, my apprentices’ training success comes down to me and how much time and effort I’m prepared to invest into them, bottom line.”
Chillex has other measures to further assure the competency of its apprenticeship candidates.
“We put all our prospective apprentices on a one year pre-trade course right from the start,” says Cam.
“If they prove they’ve got the drive and ability to see the pre-trade through it’s a good sign they’ll be able commit to the full apprenticeship, plus they get some good basic skills under their belt and an understanding of the huge amount of work involved to become a qualified tradesman.”
Cam’s finger is firmly on the pulse of all facets of the apprentice training process, to ensure all his employees come out of their time as fully competent, reliable tradesmen.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work that yields benefits for both Cam and the industry that he loves.
“The continued success of Chillex and the credibility of our industry depend on ‘competent’ meaning competent – so I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
As the standard setting body for industry-based training for this sector, Competenz works with industry to agree and set the standards to which an apprentice should be able to perform or demonstrate knowledge on to become a qualified tradesperson.
It also moderates the assessments performed by Cam and other workplace assessors nationwide to ensure that, when an apprentice is assessed and deemed competent in any skill set, they are competent to the set industry standards.
It’s the key to assuring the quality of our next generation of tradespeople.
Pictured - Chillex refrigeration and air conditioning apprentice Michael Davis
catches some study time in the back of the work van. He's just one of Chillex's six current apprentices benefitting from Cam's help to manage their training.