A student at Red River College (inset) monitors the operation of a cascade system.
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — When businesses say they are “decommissioning” mechanical refrigeration equipment, that is usually a diplomatic way of saying they are throwing the equipment away.

But here in Winnipeg, oftentimes decommissioned equipment does not head to that great refrigeration warehouse in the sky. It could well end up in the refrigeration lab at Red River College of Applied Arts, Science, and Technology. That’s because instructor George Kurowski has spread the word among HVACR industry folks and businesses in this metropolitan area of 600,000 that he would like first dibs on such equipment.

Once hauled into the lab on campus, the equipment is taken apart piece by piece by students (with recovery techniques employed). It is then rebuilt, oftentimes with quite a bit of technology added to it. One refrigerated case might be configured to allow the introduction of a number of different refrigerants as a way to help students understand why certain refrigerants are chosen for certain applications.

It is all part of a curriculum that mixes full days of classroom and lab work, interrupted by a long stretch of on-the-job training.

Kurowski said that, on average, about 18 students enroll for classes that start in mid-March. Most are in their mid-20s and come from various walks of life — delivery people, long-haul truck drivers, drywallers, welders, and auto body mechanics, to name a few. Some come from stocking shelves at supermarkets, having heard about the refrigeration trade from technicians called in to service mechanical equipment.

For 10 weeks they spend eight hours a day in studies, half that time in the classroom and half in the lab. At the end of 10 weeks, Kurowski works with local contractors, supply houses, and manufacturing facilities to put the students in real-world situations during the busy summer months of June, July, and August. The students could ride in a service van, assisting a service technician by doing tasks like washing coils and changing filters and belts. They could be placed in a manufacturing facility. One example of the latter is Controlled Environments Ltd., a Winnipeg company that customizes environmental test chambers, many of which include a mechanical refrigeration system.

That on-the-job training does weed out some students, so when classes resume in September, Kurowski said about 12 or so return for the all-day classroom and lab work extending into early March.

Graduates are eligible for accreditation as Level 1 Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanics if they complete the program with a passing grade of 70 percent or higher. They can also become registered as an apprentice by their employer within one year of completing the program. They are entitled to at least 600 hours and possibly 900 hours of credit toward their first 1,800-hour year of apprenticeship training.

Said Kurowski, “Graduates find employment with refrigeration and air conditioning companies as apprentices or as customer consultants in refrigeration retail stores. Journeypersons work mainly in the construction of cooling plants, the manufacturing of cooling cabinets, and in the maintenance field for slaughterhouse, refrigerated vans, hockey rinks, food retailers, air conditioning, and industries demanding cold temperature for their processes.”

Current costs, including programs, fees, books, and supplies, run about $1,600 U.S. (about $2,200 Canadian). Kurowski said many of the students hold part-time jobs at night and on weekends.

When the year is up, the goal is to place students into full-time, year-round work in the industry. Often the job is at the same place where the student apprenticed the previous summer.

Publication date: 06/02/2003