A new way for mobile refrigeration technicians

Mobile refrigeration technicians carry out essential repairs – and their work is finally being recognised with the launch of an apprenticeship. Ben Spencer learns more

The ability to transport food and medicine throughout the UK would grind to a screeching halt without mobile transport refrigeration technicians being on hand to carry out maintenance and repairs. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) says the broad purpose of the role is to install, service and repair transport refrigeration units (TRUs) and associated equipment found on vehicles such as heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), trailers and home delivery vans (www.tinyurl.com/yey4cz52). Technicians diagnose faults and maintenance issues encountered with this specialist equipment.

The relevance of these technicians – both now and in the future – is vital, but getting qualified has traditionally been complicated. In the past, technicians were placed on the Level 3 refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps course. But this arrangement did not include key areas relating to the drive system, such as the internal combustion engine. To close this gap, technicians would then have to undertake a Level 2 in motor vehicle craft studies or a light goods vehicle course.

This convoluted journey underscored the need for a single route to qualification that includes all the essential criteria. Such a remedy now exists for the whole industry via a three-year apprenticeship set up by a combination of Marshall Fleet Solutions, the City of Liverpool Business College and a range of trailblazer partners.

“Launching this apprenticeship now is crucial because the coronavirus pandemic and the explosion of online deliveries for groceries have made it harder to ignore the huge responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the technicians doing this work,” says Mark Howell, managing director, Marshall Fleet Solutions.

However, Howell notes that the main purpose of the course is to find the best way to train technicians in the work they are currently doing, rather than taking their work in a new direction.


Even though the apprenticeship points to a better tomorrow, getting it over the line was no simple task. Having researched how an apprenticeship standard is formed, Marshall applied to the UK Department for Education in April 2021 to create a recognised qualification in transport refrigeration.

Initially, the commercial vehicle organisation created an occupational proposal, listing the required skills and knowledge relating to competency, before presenting a separate proposal document to an IfATE panel in January 2022. This document was then approved two months later in a move that recognised the need for the apprenticeship in the industry.

Next, the trailblazer group was set up with a range of employers to endorse the apprenticeship application. Members of the group include TIP, Petit Forestier, Tesco, Langdons, Turners (Soham), Morrisons, MWL (Michael Ward Limited), PSR and Coolmax. Finally, the minister for education gave final approval for the scheme in August 2023.

Marshall is currently working to agree on the end point assessment criteria, which is likely to include a practical element, interview and exam. The company is also creating schemes of work in conjunction with the City of Liverpool College and the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), for delivery in 2024, which will be run nationwide and open to non-Marshall staff.

Marshall’s first cohort of up to ten apprentices will be recruited later in 2024 and will work toward the new IMI qualification in transport refrigeration. The apprenticeship is now live on the government’s website (for details, see www.tinyurl.com/3kzmdxwc).


Context aside, Marshall’s apprentices will work on up to ten diesel-powered Thermo King fridge units for vans and trailers at the Tamworth supersite (see box). The apprentices will be mentored by 20 field engineers and guided by a workplace development plan. In the first year, they will check the oil level or change the oil and filter on the engine, while the second year will see them replacing a water pump on an engine or replacing a compressor on a TRU. In the final year, they will move on to more complex tasks, such as carrying out a base controller/microprocessor test or a controlled refrigerant level check.

At customer sites, apprentices will conduct a range of tasks, from routine servicing on the TRU to replacing a blown cylinder head gasket. Over time, the cohort will attend breakdown jobs in the field. Here, they will inspect the unit’s microprocessor to locate alarm codes using a diagnostics manual and two apps. The Service Tap app will allow them to connect to the unit via a cable, determine the unit type and then provide the documents to assist with diagnosis. It will also offer guidance on fault finding of the unit.

Speaking at the launch event of the apprenticeship at Marshall’s Tamworth depot, Howell said: “Today marks an important landmark and milestone for our industry. It's really amazing to be able to offer this tailored solution specifically for transport refrigeration. Now, more than ever, supporting transport refrigeration means pulling together as an industry and working closely with training providers and the government to ensure needs are recognised, defined and catered for.”

Lynton Perry, from City of Liverpool College, added: “This course could not be delivered without the likes of Marshall Fleet Solutions. We can teach you about thermodynamics and diesel engines until the cows come home, but we can’t teach you the real [scenarios] that the guys have to encounter out on the road. That is where people such as Dave Darrington [technical training manager at Marshall] come in.”

The mobile refrigeration apprenticeship addresses the failings of the past while also creating a clearer career path for aspiring technicians. In short, there has never been a better time to sign up to a scheme.


As part of the course structure, apprentices are taught 10 key duties on the IfATE website (www.tinyurl.com/4swxpf94), which each contain a range of alpha-numeric modules they will be assessed on.

For example, modules in Duty 1 ‘Conduct dynamic risk assessments before and throughout each job’ contains (among others) K18 (Fault finding techniques: root cause analysis related to TRU operations) and S12 (Identify hazards and risks in the workplace and apply control measures).

“Previously, there would not be a standard for air conditioning because people working on air conditioning units are not necessarily working at the top of a ladder on a unit that is mounted on a tall truck,” recalls Mick Ward, head of region and installations.


Marshall’s Tamworth supersite is a 26,000m² operation located on the Birch Coppice Business Park in the Midlands. The facility boasts a multi-bay workshop that can hold up to nine HGVs, a national parts and accessories centre, and a centre of excellence that builds on the company’s transport refrigeration training school.

The centre provides in-house training requirements covering every product and service discipline offered by Marshall, including transport refrigeration, tail lift and fleet management.

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