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Blazing the trail

The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers is taking on the mantle of applied learning, with its wholehearted support of the new Trailblazer apprenticeships. Angela Ringguth, Professional Development Consultant to CIBSE explains why

In this strange new world, where building managers are having to grapple with a whole new series of challenges, the role of the building services engineer is coming into the spotlight. The training and expertise of the people who advise on ventilation and air circulation, the safety of lifts that have been unused for several weeks or the recommissioning of hot water systems is suddenly very significant.

This new recognition coincides with a radical shake-up of the training pathway as new modern apprenticeships put the responsibility for training the next generation of engineers back into the hands of the professional institution.

Like many parts of the built environment sector, building services engineering has struggled to recruit high-quality new entrants and concluded that the established model, relying too heavily on university graduates, is simply not enough. Apprenticeships have traditionally been an accepted route for entry into this very practical profession but had become a rather neglected and under-resourced training model.

The Trailblazer scheme was established by the government in response to increasing dissatisfaction from employers who were finding that school and university leavers simply did not have the right skills to fit easily into a working environment. Government therefore challenged industry – with construction being right at the start of the process – to design its own qualification system.

CIBSE has been involved from the start and is now an End Point Assessment Organisation for four apprenticeship programmes in England (the devolved regions run their own programmes with slightly different criteria). This gives the professional body the opportunity both to influence the training to deliver the skills required by industry and the responsibility for assessing whether candidates have indeed acquired those skills during their apprenticeship.

The four apprenticeships cover both Building Services Engineering Design and Building Services Engineering Site Operations skillsets and provide qualifications at two levels. The Technician level apprenticeships are designed for post GCSE school leavers and the degree apprenticeships lead to the professional status of IEng ACIBSE.

This potentially represents a massive change in the way we deliver further education. I would argue that we have sometimes placed too much emphasis on University learning as the only route to recognised qualifications. Feedback from employers suggests that graduates can be underprepared for the practical challenges of the working environment, while the prospect of graduating with a mountain of debt is increasingly unappealing to many school leavers.

Putting the professional body in greater control of the training that qualifies its next generation ensures the relevance of the training. I would argue that graduates who have acquired their learning while simultaneously applying it in a live working environment will have a better, more practical understanding of the nature and business of their profession.

I personally feel that vocational education has been underfunded and undervalued in recent decades. The Trailblazer apprenticeships, with their increased rigour and demanding final assessments, provide an excellent foundation for acquiring and demonstrating real professional competence. After final assessment, the graduate apprentice is then accepted into the professional institution (in our case CIBSE) and becomes part of an ongoing programme of continued learning that is designed to ensure that competence is maintained and up to date throughout a professional career.

In England, professionals whose operations are deemed to have life and death consequences are required to be members of their respective professional bodies – think of doctors, lawyers or architects. Such membership includes a requirement to abide by a code of practice and to keep skills and knowledge up to date.

It becomes increasingly difficult to argue that those responsible for the quality of indoor air, for energy management or the safe design of fire performance in buildings should be treated differently.

It is entirely logical for the institutions to be responsible for designing and assessing the entry qualifications for their discipline.

So in 2020 for the first time, an apprenticeship category is included in the CIBSE Young Engineers Awards.

It aims to be an inclusive award, open to apprentices currently studying a Level 3 apprenticeship or above in building services and related occupations. Entrants will need to be nominated by their college, university or employer and will simply submit a three-minute video of themselves talking about ‘Why the role of a building services engineer is so important’. Entry is open until 3 August and winners will be announced in the autumn.

We hope that the award will reveal the talent and dedication of young people who have made a conscious decision to follow the apprenticeship route into their chosen profession. A route that I predict will become increasingly valued and attractive to both young people and employers.

Full entry details for the CIBSE Apprentice of the Year Award can be found on the www.CIBSE.org website.

About Sarah OBeirne


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