Now a fully qualified industrial refrigeration engineer at Star Refrigeration’s maintenance and service branch in Bristol, Tom Woolston started his career as an apprentice. Tom received the silver prize at the RAC Cooling Industry Awards 2018 and was crowned ACR Trainee of the Year 2018.
I left school at the age of 16 with 7 GCSE’s A* to C’s and went on to start studying aerospace engineering. After 6 months and several different lectures I left college and went back to sixth form. I left sixth form a year later and began working as a retail shop fitter.
What is your current job title?
My current job title is a Refrigeration Engineer (ST1)
How did you become involved with Star Refrigeration?
I started working for Star after seeing an advert online and hearing very good things about Star’s training programme.
What attracted you to the refrigeration industry and to Star in particular?
I was attracted to the refrigeration industry as I wanted to know more about how all of the fridges and freezers I was installing in a previous job role actually worked. In particular, I was attracted to Star because of their high industry standards and their year on year success with apprentices.
Describe your apprenticeship/training progress with Star?
I started my apprenticeship with Star and almost immediately an individual training plan was set up for me. The training plan consisted of a number of courses and practical experiences that I needed to complete by certain dates to allow me to progress through my apprenticeship. I also had monthly meetings with my mentor and quarterly meetings with the training manager to measure progress and assess key areas for development.
Once my apprenticeship was complete, I moved from refrigeration engineer apprentice to an ST1 refrigeration engineer. ST1 is the lowest grade in Star Refrigeration’s engineering programme and as a fully qualified industrial refrigeration engineer, I will now need to focus on successfully completing all subsequent grades up to ST5.
What does your current role involve?
I am currently specialising in service and maintenance on large scale refrigeration plant and work with the top UK retailers. As a fully qualified refrigeration engineer, I now work under no supervision and I am expected to diagnose, report and resolve faults independently.
The fourth and final year of the apprenticeship really helped me prepare for this. As well as focusing more on the service and maintenance side of my apprenticeship I was also exposed to national contracts. This involved working on a project from start to finish where a large ammonia refrigeration system was installed into a food processing factory. I really enjoyed this experience and gained so much knowledge and confidence from it.
What do you enjoy most about your job, and what are the biggest challenges you face?
I enjoy the good balance of work and social life. I know that after my working day is complete I will always have time to spend with my friends and family. Some of the biggest challenges I face as an engineer are having to problem solve with tight time constraints. This can be challenging but with Star’s 85+ engineers only a phone call away there is always support.
The biggest highlight of my career to date was being crowned the ARC Trainee of the year 2018. After working so hard through my apprenticeship it was really good to be recognised for the effort that I put in.
Where do you see your career progressing?
I like working for Star for many reasons. My colleagues aren’t just colleagues, they are my friends. Star are always investing in training people, better systems and new technology and this makes me feel that my future at the company is secured.
At the moment I am focusing on becoming a high standard engineer and can see my role progressing up through the Star ranks. When the time is right I would like to move into a more technical role and maybe into sales.
What excites/interests you about the industry?
The refrigeration industry is a very exciting sector to be in at the moment. With the gradual phase out of F-gas, customers are more focussed on greener alternatives than ever before. This makes our roles as engineers so important. Refrigeration is such a big part of everyday life and many of the things we take for granted such as the internet, medicines or food would not exist without it. I can’t wait to see what the future brings with exiting new technology being constantly introduced as the adoption of HFC-free systems increases worldwide. There is no better time to be a refrigeration engineer!
Are you a member of any professional body?
I am a member of the Institute of Refrigeration, this is like a big club for all the refrigeration engineers where there are monthly updates and talks. There is also an annual dinner held in London which I was lucky enough to be invited along to. We had a great night!
What do you know now about the industry which you wished you had known before?
Before starting my career, I wish I knew more about refrigeration in general as we are not taught anything about it in school. Everyone and I mean everyone has a fridge in their house but only a very small percentage of those actually know how it operates.
What advice would you give to young people who are just starting a similar career path to yours?
I would say jump at a career in refrigeration with both arms open and take as much as you can from the senior engineers because they have knowledge that you can’t be taught from a book. If you apply yourself and are motivated to succeed there is no doubt that you will do really well in this industry.
Tom Woolston - Industrial Refrigeration Apprentice