Skills for sustainable growth

In order to meet the demands of the Climate Change Act, installers need to gain the knowledge, skills and certification to work with renewable technologies. Simon Allan, director of renewables,  explains what this means for the industry and how materials suppliers such as Plumb Center are perfectly placed to be a key reference, information and training source.

The carbon targets set by the Climate Change Act will make some extraordinary demands on the construction industry, not only to deliver very low impact new buildings but to substantially refurbish the vast majority our 26 million dwellings and the 2.5 million non-domestic buildings.

To hit the 2020 target of a 34 per cent carbon reduction, we will have to substantially refurbish over 7 million homes. There will be many facets which will have to come together if the scale and pace of carbon reduction (plus water and waste) are to be achieved.

Workforce volume

The construction industry employs in excess of 4,000,000 people in the UK. The Construction Skills Network has estimated that the fall in employment in the sector has been severe with a drop by approximately 375,000 workers from 2008 to 2010. Most recently, we have seen the demise of some larger companies and the subsequent redundancies. So, at a time when particularly robust demands are to be made on construction, the industry has shrunk to historically low levels.

This will require an active programme to re-engage former tradesmen and to attract new entrants, particularly amongst school and college leavers.

Trade counter ‘touch point’

The industry is notoriously disparate. It is disparate in terms of scale, location and ability. Of the 190,000 private contracting companies, over 180,000 employ between 1-13 staff and over 80,000 are one-man businesses. At a local level ‘builders’ may not even be officially recognised as such.

These characteristics can make communication and engagement difficult. The common ‘touch point’ is the materials supplier. On average, our customers visit our premises three times a week. The trade counter is seen as a key reference and information source, either through point-of-sale or through the staff.

Since a tradesman’s ‘time is money’ then any absence from work is regarded as lost earnings. This makes remote daytime training unpopular.

Training must be local and preferably outside working hours. If training can be delivered at a location which is going to be visited during a standard working day then so much the better. Many tradesmen have internet access and online courses would definitely be popular.

Skill levels

The emergence of renewables is placing exceptional demands on installers. The traditional heating system in the UK is a gas boiler running a ‘wet’ system through radiators. There are over 100,000 Gas Safe installers who are capable of fitting and maintaining this system. The construction industry is still defined by trades until you reach handyman-type level.

The ‘new’ technologies are crossing traditional boundaries and skill-sets. For example, solar thermal requires plumbing skills and roofing skills, heat pumps may require plumbing and electrical skills.

Do we provide integrated work teams, start a new skill (renewable installer) or hope that the large companies will be able to deliver the whole solution?

Economics of training

As the burden of regulation becomes ever more onerous, small businesses are finding the cost of training and certification a principal barrier to expansion. To date, manufacturers have been key to the economics of training by running courses themselves or by arrangements with selected colleges throughout the UK.

Creating opportunities

At Plumb Center we are looking creatively at how we can help our customers with training by arranging courses through third party providers, utilising loyalty programmes to pay for courses and allowing our premises to be used for training.

During 2011, we are planning to open training centres in locations across the UK to provide customers with the opportunity to receive accredited courses, leading to recognised qualifications across a wide range of technologies.

We have established a training partnership with Sevenoaks Energy Academy which provides customers with a wide range of courses which are nationally recognised and compliant with current government programmes. The first two training locations are established at Sevenoaks and Royal Leamington Spa, with more to be opened during the year.

Depending on the location, courses may be available as follows:

  • Solar thermal installer
  • Heat pump installer (ground & air)
  • Grey-water harvesting
  • Solar photovoltaic
  • Part L
  • Part G
  • Renewable energy awareness
  • Underfloor heating installation
  • Underfloor heating design
  • Unvented cylinders
  • Water regulations
  • Legionella

MCS Accreditation

What is MCS?

Over the next few years, thousands of UK properties will benefit from renewable technologies being installed and only installations using Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) registered installers and MCS Certified products will be eligible for financial incentives such as the government funded Feed-in Tariff (FiT) & Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

To achieve MCS status the applicant must:

  • Demonstrate the skills, knowledge and practical competence to design, install and commission the technology
  • Demonstrate good working practices for consumer protection
  • Demonstrate control processes for purchasing, invoicing, complaints management, quality and record keeping

How is Plumb Center helping?

We are developing a network of BPEC accredited training centres across the UK where customers are able to learn practical installation and design skills.  We are also working together with NAPIT to provide a simple MCS registration process.

NAPIT’s scheme is a simple route for installers to become MCS-registered and enable them to install renewable technologies and introduce FiTS and the RHI to their customers.

Where are the training centres?

We have already developed centres in Leamington Spa and Sevenoaks where around 13 renewable products courses are on offer. To supplement this we have opened satellite training centres in Leeds, Orpington and  Exeter offering the most popular courses such as solar thermal and unvented cylinders.

Visit www.wolseleysbc.co.uk/about-us/training for more information on the training courses available and call 0845 2871970 to book. To begin the MCS registration process, call the NAPIT team on 0845 543 0330.