Refrigeration trade just the ticket

30 April 2024

Newly qualified refrigeration engineer Jack Butler is off to France. The 20-year-old from Urenui in Taranaki has been selected to compete at the 47th WorldSkills International competition. The competition is the gold standard of skills excellence. Over 1500 young people from over 65 countries and regions will compete in 62 trade and vocational skill competitions.

Jack will make a first stop in Australia in May when he competes in Melbourne at the WorldSkills Australia Global Skills competition. Then, in September, he will become the first New Zealand representative to compete at the WorldSkills International Competition in the refrigeration, heating and air conditioning skill.

This year, Jack completed his apprenticeship through Competenz and is now in his fourth year working full time with Active Refrigeration, Taranaki. His boss, William Lovell, Service Manager from Active Refrigeration, encouraged Jack to compete in the 2023 Wallie Askew Memorial Workskills Competition held in Palmerston North last October.

“I said you’ve got to go to this competition, you will regret it if you don’t do it,” says William.

William had competed in the national industry competition a few years earlier. He rated it as a great event to test skills and build camaraderie. Jack placed second. This has now led to a trip to Lyon, France, to compete internationally, which was far beyond Jack’s imagination.

WorldSkills is an international network which focusses on developing skills through global training standards, benchmarking systems, and enhancing industry engagement with a strong focus on inspiring young people. The international competition has a tight age limit. For most skill areas, WorldSkills International competitors must not be older than 23 years in the calendar year of the competition.

Jack got into the refrigeration early. He says he had always been into engineering but didn’t want to be stuck in a workshop all day.

“At Waitara High School, I got the chance to do some work experience with Active Refrigeration in New Plymouth. Soon, I realised that was what I wanted to do and have loved it ever since.”

“At Active, we do a lot of commercial and industrial refrigeration. For me, every day is different. One day might be electrical faults, the next day might be welding or brazing pipe, you get out and see different sites.”

William is very proud. He knows Jack has great talent and drive.

Jack Butler at work

“Jack completed his Year 13 work while in Year 12,  then started a trade straight away. He has gone on to finish his apprenticeship in good time too — three years and one month. Knocked out all his paperwork, all his on-jobs, all of ours. Miles ahead.”

“I’ve seen Jack start right from the beginning of his apprenticeship. I have seen him grow throughout his time and he really deserves the opportunity – he is always putting in extra work.”

William is heading to Lyon too. “I am going to go over as a support person and to watch the competition. I wouldn’t miss it. It’s really cool, I must say, it is probably the highlight of my career!”

Neill Adkins, Jack’s mentor, is another of the contingent preparing to head to Lyon as one of New Zealand’s Skill Experts. Neill has 21 years’ industry experience from offshore commissioning of commercial freeze-dryers to his current role as a Service Manager at a Refrigeration and Air Conditioning company in Palmerston North.

For the last two years, Neill has volunteered for the Wallie Askew Workskills competition – heading into the international arena feels like a great next step.

Over the next six months, Neill will be taking part in expert forums with other refrigeration and HVAC experts around the world to discuss the idiosyncrasies of the skill modules – and he will be mentoring Jack and working up a personalised training plan to prepare New Zealand’s first refrigeration competitor for France.

Carl Rankin, WorldSkills New Zealand GM, says “Through our partnership with IRHACE, and their relationship with Active Refrigeration, it is  fantastic to be able to support Jack and Neill as they represent New Zealand in Lyon and use the platform of international competition promote and showcase refrigeration and air conditioning skills which are often considered to be part of a ‘hidden’ industry.”

New Zealand competitors Elliott Farnan and Jack Butler

Elliott Farnan (competing in Aircraft Maintenance) and Jack Butler (competing in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning) are heading to Lyon in September.