There are few businesses that work in the commercial refrigeration sector in the UK these days that do not suffer from a shortage of skills. There are two main reasons that the sector has suffered from a lack of technical know-how in the marketplace recently. The first is the pandemic. This has caused major disruption in many industries, not all of it of the short-term kind that was due to temporary lockdowns being imposed. At such a time, numerous people in all walks of life looked afresh at their careers and opted for changes. This has meant that some skilled engineers have left the industry to try their luck on a new career path. For others, early retirement became a viable option while others wanted to drop their hours and go part-time.
Of course, taking skilled workers out of the pool of engineers that refrigeration companies can recruit from is just one long-lasting aspect of the pandemic. The other one was a severe interruption to the education of trainees. Many apprenticeships were abandoned. Further education courses in engineering and ventilation that might have been carried out to fruition in normal times were also more likely to be delayed or dropped altogether when so much was thrown up into the air by the global health crisis.
There again, as many industries – from seasonal agricultural firms to haulage companies – would agree, the role of Brexit has also meant that recruiting from Europe hasn’t been as easy as once it was. Where the refrigeration industry might have turned to skilled engineers and technicians in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic, for example, to recruit in the past, this effectively ended when freedom of movement across the EU did. Interestingly, this effect was already noticeable from 2016 onwards and caused numerous recruitment problems long before the UK actually left the EU.
However, at TJ Refrigeration, we think that all of these problems can be addressed. Indeed, along with several market analysts, we predict growth in the commercial refrigeration sector around the world and, more specifically, in the UK. How can this be? To begin with, the commercial refrigeration sector – like many others – is planning for the future right now. We don’t expect major disruptions like the pandemic caused in the near future which means the sector can gear up to train new recruits with the technical skills they’ll need for the growing demand for refrigeration in the commercial sector. Numerous refrigeration businesses are offering mentoring programmes and apprenticeships these days. In short, the current manpower shortage will eventually be turned around.
There again, we know that demand for commercial refrigeration systems – both new installations and maintenance – is rising. There are some key market trends that indicate this although our friendly sales team can vouch for it anecdotally due to the number of calls they now receive on a daily basis for our services. To begin with, there is an increased demand for precision cooling systems. This is something that food distribution companies, in particular, are seeking so that produce doesn’t just arrive fresh and cool but in an optimal condition for sale or consumption.
There again, there is another implication of the pandemic, albeit an indirect one. Due to the vaccine rollout across the world often needing commercial refrigeration equipment to keep vaccine supplies in their proper condition, demand for the right sort of equipment has soared in the medical and healthcare sectors. Many healthcare settings used to get by with a domestic refrigeration unit without too many problems. However, this is no longer the case and commercial units that can provide more stable cooling at lower temperatures are sought-after throughout the UK and, indeed, globally.
Although the UK has not departed from any of the industry regulations that cover commercial refrigeration, it may do so down the line, having left the EU. It depends on how this might be done but this room for change could also offer a boost to the sector within a UK context, at least. Therefore, despite some of the problems the commercial refrigeration sector has faced in the last few years, the team at TJ Refrigeration believe it has never been a better time to be part of the industry. Anyone entering the sector as a career move in the next couple of years is likely to enjoy a lifetime of uninterrupted work for them, not least as cooling is likely to become an ever-greater part of commercial budgets as average summer temperatures continue to rise.