Adding to the toolbox: do installers need to broaden their skills?

As the industry evolves to meet government targets to decarbonise homes across the UK, just how confident is the workforce to tackle the challenges ahead? Is the need for upskilling and retraining regarded as a positive step forward and how will installers navigate the surge in demand for heat pumps and updated installations?

Previous experience of green strategies rolled out by central government has been unsuccessful and somewhat messy, so will the April launch of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme be any different? 

A recent surge in demand for heat pump training by existing installers indicates an enthusiastic foot forward in future-proofing businesses for sole traders and companies alike. The simultaneous hike in Google searches for ‘heat pumps’ by members of the public seems to support the belief that the future is bright for installers. But how is this change in positioning being accepted by the industry? 

Mark Krull, managing director, Logic4Training, said: “The trainees coming through Logic4training’s doors are adding renewables to their existing plumbing and heating skill sets, rather than moving away from gas and oil central heating. 

“Gas is the predominant heat source in the UK, and will be for some time, so the ideal heating installer will have both traditional and renewable qualifications. Mark Krull, Logic4Training

Some hesitancy because of previously scrapped government schemes 

Mark is experiencing some hesitancy from installers across the industry: “Unfortunately, we are still seeing some hesitancy and scepticism from installers, largely because previous government schemes have been scrapped prematurely. Personally, I think this time it’s different. At the end of the day, the UK must reduce its carbon footprint and over the next 20 years or so, gas and oil boilers (as we know them currently) will be phased out. 

“It’s likely the future heating landscape will be far more varied, with a mix of technologies, dependent on property types and where people live in the country.” 

Griff Thomas, managing director of GTEC, said: “As a dedicated renewable technology provider, the installers we see have chosen to specialise in these technologies. Trainees on our fossil fuel courses are often less convinced in a low carbon future, however. 

“We make it clear that the future of heat and power is a blended one (at least for the short term). Moving over to renewable technology offers amazing business opportunities, and an installer that can advise its customers on all the options available will be in demand. Griff Thomas, GTEC

Switched-on installers are expanding their reach to become a one-stop-shop 

Griff continues: “We are seeing installers seeking to add additional technologies to their current skill set. Switched on installers are expanding their reach to become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all things renewable and low carbon. Many homes will have a mix of things, so ideally, installers should be arming themselves with a range of technologies. 

“The route an installer takes depends on their existing qualifications and experience and what’s popular – heating engineers are currently moving towards heat pumps; electricians tend to focus on solar PV. We are encouraging trainees to branch out into other renewables, like solar thermal, battery storage etc. As mentioned, low carbon homes will often include a mix of technologies.” 

The transition to installing a GSHP is relatively straight-forward

James Standley, managing director of Kensa Heat Pumps, said: “The recently launched Boiler Upgrade Scheme demonstrates the Government’s commitment to supporting the widespread adoption of highly efficient, low carbon heat pumps. As heat pumps become the default choice, the workforce will need to be scaled up and upskilled to deliver the government’s target of 600,000 heat pumps a year – Kensa recognises there is an opportunity here for installers to broaden their business prospects. 

“The good news for experienced plumbing and heating engineers is that the transition to installing a ground source heat pump is relatively straightforward. Certainly, Kensa’s British-made products and simple installation methods have been designed with this transition in mind.”