A 'Degree' of Achievement

A 'Degree' of Achievement

The Refrigeration, Air-Conditioning, and Heat Pump (RACHP) industry is a professional career that offers a vast variety of employment and academic opportunities.  Historically, the industry has been a subsidiary of other specialist trades, commonly referred to as a sector within Building Services Engineering.  Owing to recent market drivers such as climate change and the environmental impact of RACHP, it is realistic to say that the industry has discovered its own identity, and anyone considering a career, or further development, in the RACHP industry, should be certain of an appealing and positive future.

The RACHP industry has attracted an abundance of attention due to the focus on environmental concerns relating to its carbon footprint.  Many alternative refrigerants, enhanced products, evolving technologies, and the integration with renewable energy sources can be expected in the future.  Whilst most of the concepts have been proven historically, now there is a purpose to implement them in the field and with Government incentives for ‘green’ end-users, the future is exciting.

As an enthusiastic employee within the industry that has studied from practical ‘hands-on’ course routes to more recently in achieving a first class Bachelors Degree with Honours, I want to share some personal experiences on how I developed academically whilst working in the industry.  I hope this insight encourages anyone considering a future in the RACHP industry to give it a go and take full advantage of the rewards on offer.

I was fortunate to discover the RACHP industry by coincidence.  I left school with a strong passion for engineering, reassured that it was the profession for me, however actually identifying a specific trade within a diverse discipline was not an easy mission.  Leaving school automatically creates enormous amounts of pressure whether it is from family, friends, or educational influences.  School leavers need to choose a route of work in a specific line of business for the rest of their working lives.  This alone would be daunting to most.

I have been very fortunate to study from practical ‘hands on’ courses straight through to a Degree level whilst exposing myself to many aspects of the RACHP industry.  Understandably, most people relate the industry to what they know, frequently in terms of a domestic refrigerator, there was once a day where I had the same viewpoint.  Since maturing in everyday life, I was quick to discover that almost everything, whether a tangible good or a process, the RACHP has some form of involvement.

I, for one, had absolutely no idea on a career path so I opted to gain invaluable work experience in mechanical engineering.  It was a few years later after learning the basic fundamentals of engineering, I decided to travel within Europe, and it was this impromptu move that was the start of an incredible journey in the RACHP industry.

I found employment within a commercial air-conditioning company.  Once I gained a few months experience, I encouraged myself to return home and register on a nationally recognised RACHP course.  It was important for me to display willingness so when approaching companies looking for an apprenticeship, I could demonstrate how proactive I had been about making a career in the RACHP industry.  Admittedly, this was the hardest stage finding momentum in my career to date, the reason being was seeking employment with a company that were willing to sponsor me and enable me to develop into a qualified and competent engineer.  Finding employment had taken many months of hard work and dedication which included adopting several strategies, from ‘cold calling’ prospective employers to writing letters to many companies in search of an opportunity.  I am proud to say that since my first recruitment, I have never had to worry about employment or personal development, as the industry has proven to be very dynamic, where many internal and external market forces frequently generate new challenges.

I was keen to complete my academic training to the highest level feasible.  Many career paths commence with studying for 2-4 years full time before being employed and work thereafter, however when you compare this to the route I experienced in spending over eight years to date where my academic studies were conducted predominantly on a day release basis, it was much quicker.  I found that having the two, work experience and academic training simultaneously, enabled me to develop and mature into the industry at a much faster rate.  This is something that has helped me in exceeding targets at work and achieve the higher grades academically.  This was driven by frequently using one to compliment the other in everyday activities. 

Once I committed to studying, I was introduced to many interesting theories leading to high-quality sources of information.  Not having a clue what I had let myself into was actually to my benefit, as I was overwhelmed with the avenues to take in research.  After a few assignments I became wise to good terms of reference where they could be found.  It was actually surprising to see how many articles I read that were either subjective or did not tell the whole story to make trusted source for reference, this now makes me very critical to my own development and to that matter for all aspects of life.  This is a key skill I have taken away from studying at Degree level.

When studying, it is paramount to get a balance of work and life, a fair, well-balanced plan will pay dividends if executed with intent.  My philosophy was to work smart when I was in a good mental state.  At the early stages, I was spending lots of time trying to be a perfectionist in writing and researching, however I soon realised it was not effective as I would make many changes when I was in a different, more positive, frame of mind.  The key to this was starting as early as possible, even with a provisional plan, then I was in control and not overly concerned with timescales, I found revisiting something, was for me, an effective method of digesting knowledge and enhancing results that little bit more as I would come back to something several times when I was maybe thinking differently.

I always aim for the best results reasonably possible as I think it shows my employers that I didn’t just attend College or University, I went and mastered the course.  I think this holds me in good stead for future investment in further education, as they know I will capitalise on the opportunity and get the most out of it.

More recently, I have been responsible for the design of systems and associated equipment for tendering projects throughout the process until customer handover.   This includes investigating customer’s requirements and their key business drivers, I always seek an thorough understanding of a process prior to considering refrigeration concepts.  This ensures the optimal interest is in the application.  The recent aspects I have experienced include renewable energy industrial heating applications incorporating natural refrigerants, the methods to minimise product weight loss whilst maintain optimum quality in the food sectors and the focus on energy consumption reduction for companies to show a ‘green’ image and improve profitability.  Without my comprehensive academic background I do not believe I would not be as positive and effective as I demonstrate today.  I believe that studying for a degree makes you think in your own way as you have to be critical to certain aspects related to industry, although as this is a mighty ask you have to think that bit more as it has to be correct and enable you to derive at your own conclusion and recommendations.

Since finishing studying, I have realigned my development goals.  All are very optimistic but realistic.  I have taken a much needed year out to develop in the working environment, giving 100% and it has been good to be totally focused.  I have maybe 40 years left in my working lifetime, so I want to make the best use of them and achieve all my aspirations as I know they are possible, it will just take time and appropriate planning.  Some of these include becoming a Chartered Engineer, complete a Masters Degrees in Engineering and then in Business/Management studies, be a significant contributor to the Institute of Refrigeration and become a Fellow member in the process, ultimately I want to be the best at what I set out to do in the RACHP industry.

There are now Degree courses that are tailored to RACHP and there are many options thereafter in Building Services, Chemical Engineering, and all aspects of Engineering.  I am very proud to work in an industry where the opportunities are endless and the skills obtained make me a better person in everyday life.  I would recommend anyone, no matter what their past, to investigate what is on offer.


David Cooper achieved a Bachelor of Science Degree, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning with First Class Honours at Grimsby University Centre in 2013, and is the current RAC National Student of the Year - Gold Winner 2013.

He is a Member of the Institute of Refrigeration and employed as Project Development Engineer at Johnson Controls where he has worked for more than four years. Previously David has worked at Sabroe and Braywhite Refrigeration.


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