Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) student and third-year refrigeration and air-conditioning apprentice Floyd Lucas-Baxter has won gold at Australia’s vocational ‘Skills Olympics’.
The 19-year-old was one of 12 CIT students to qualify for the WorldSkills national championships, where almost 500 of the best young trade apprentices compete in hands-on events.
While four CIT students took home medals from Melbourne, Floyd was the only one to emerge with the coveted gold after three intense days of competition.
“It feels really nice to have something to show for all the hard work and practice I put in, because the competition was really hard,” he said.
“Manual labour wise, it was one of the easier days I’ve had. But constantly looking at the clock right next to you, knowing that you’re running out of time, it was quite stressful.
“We had 18 hours of competition, which sounds like a lot, but it gets away from you. I was one of two people to get my system running, which goes to show how difficult the task was.”
Floyd and the other commercial refrigeration apprentices were tasked with assembling a working, small-scale cool room in a reality TV-style setting with cameras live streaming the event and judges announcing how much time was left on the clock. What’s more, if any components Floyd assembled were more than two millimetres off where they should have been, marks were deducted.
While the competition rules may sound arbitrary, Floyd said there could be big consequences in real life if he took too long or made a mistake. His employer, O’Connor Commercial Refrigeration (OCR), handles the refrigeration needs of cafes and bars to supermarkets and hospitals. “It’s obviously extremely critical because without it, there’d be no food,” Floyd said.
“A lot of people think electricians do fridges, because no-one really knows how fridges work. But it is its own trade and it’s a very cool trade.”
Floyd thanked his employers, Cooper Lee, Mick Spence and Zanda Miladinovic, the latter two of whom travelled to Melbourne specially for his presentation.
“The whole time everyone was tuning in and they’d text me at the end of the day and say, ‘You did a great job today, Floyd. Looking good’,” he said.
“They’re very stoked because they certainly invested in me by letting me work less and train more and it’s nice to see it wasn’t all for nothing.
“I’ve done a large majority of my apprenticeship at OCR and I definitely wouldn’t be the technician I am today if I wasn’t at OCR.”
Floyd also credited his achievement to the training and encouragement from his CIT teachers and mentors, Paul Wright and Ryan Hanns.
CIT interim CEO Christine Robertson also congratulated Floyd and other medalists in her column, but said there was a lot more at stake than just medals.
She noted the competition’s origin as a post-World War II initiative to address a skills shortage she argued was still relevant in the context of the new national housing target.
“That means more carpenters, plasterers, plumbers, electricians, painters, landscapers and so on, the very same trades [represented] at WorldSkills,” she wrote.
“The reality is, these in-demand skilled workers will need to be developed through Australia’s vocational education and training providers, just like the CIT.”