Installers encouraged to commit to new low carbon heating apprenticeship 

LAST year saw a marked increase in the number of certified heat pump installations registered in the UK to a record 35,000 for the year. 

MCS is appealing to the installer community to help drive a new low carbon heating apprenticeship

There was also a 57% increase in applications to the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) following an uplift in the grant from £5,000 to £7,500. 

And, as well as the BUS being further boosted with another injection of cash, 2023 also revealed the low carbon technology plans for new build homes as part of the Future Homes Standard consultation. 

Despite these positive moves, there is a long way to go to the government’s ambitious target of installing 600,000 heat pumps annually by 2028. 

Boost to the skills puzzle 

Another big piece of the puzzle is skills. If heat pumps are to be rolled out in those numbers, then tens of thousands of technicians, with the right training and knowledge, will be needed. Analysis by the Heat Pump Association suggests a minimum of 50,200 installers will be required by 2030. 

This ambition has been boosted by the introduction of the first ever national apprenticeship standard focused solely on low carbon heating. 

The ground-breaking industry-led low carbon heating apprenticeship was developed through collaboration between the MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme), IfATE (the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education) and a trailblazer group of heat pump installers. 

It has been allocated a generous funding band of £22,000 per apprentice, which training providers can draw down over three years – this compares to a £21,000 four-year draw down for a plumbing and heating apprenticeship. 

While it is a big step, the establishment of the standard is only the beginning of the journey. There is now a great deal of work to be done to ensure it is developed effectively with the right qualifications and course materials, and widely taken up by training providers, employers and, of course, apprentices. 

By industry, for industry 

MCS has appointed two new sector skills managers, Steve Knight and Martyn Raine, who bear some of the responsibility for driving the apprenticeship forward, and they are appealing to the installer community to help. 

Steve Knight has a background working for large energy companies, running training centres and assessments. 

He said: “Just getting to this point is enormous. The fact we’ve got this trailblazer group together and have created something that is exclusively low carbon, stepping away altogether from fossil fuel-based sources of heat, I think is massive for the industry. 

“We particularly want to make sure this scheme delivers value for contractors, while driving up standards and quality. That really starts with training. 

“This has to be employer-led, by industry, for industry. We’ve committed to supporting the roll out, helping to train the trainers and working with employers to deliver the highest standard of low carbon heating technicians possible. 

“There’s also the wider communication work to take place, to get the message out there that this exists as a genuine alternative to fossil fuel. We know from our study on Gen Z that there are whole swathes of young people coming through now who see what’s on the horizon, climate wise, and they want to contribute towards change. 

“So, we need to get into schools earlier, way before students reach apprenticeship age.” 

A shrinking workforce 

Up until now, efforts to increase the number of low carbon heating installers have relied on traditional heating and plumbing engineers taking bolt-on short courses in renewables, and this remains a vital pathway to achieving the number of heat pump installers needed. 

But, at the same time, it is accepted that this existing workforce of traditional heating and plumbing engineers is shrinking. 

Martyn Raine, who has a background on the tools as a heating and plumbing engineer, said: “The existing workforce is getting older and, probably, shrinking. The apprenticeship will hopefully help fill the void of people leaving the sector, but there’s work to be done in bringing new people in. 

“The challenge now is engaging with the training providers, the college networks, the employers. We will use our data to see where heat pump installations are taking place and target those areas specifically, but we also want to hear from any employers who might be interested in taking an apprentice on. That will be essential in demonstrating demand to training providers.” 

Graduates completing the Low Carbon Heating Technician Apprenticeship will be fully versed in supporting homeowners on how to heat and decarbonise their homes using a variety of heat sources including ground and air source heat pumps and solar thermal collectors. 

A number of providers have so far signed up to offer the apprenticeship, which is expected to start welcoming students more widely from September 2024. 

One of those is North Yorkshire-based HybridTec whose Managing Director, Sophie Gilmore, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with MCS on the delivery of the LCHT Apprenticeship. 

Currently we are a large provider for Gas Engineering Operative Level 3 and see how the market is changing month on month. 

“The vast majority of businesses working with Hybrid are engaging with green heating technology and are positive around the need to upskill in renewable energy to diversify their employment opportunities. 

“Hybrid has been involved in national government initiatives such as Green Skills Bootcamps and, during 2023, we have upskilled over 2000 heating engineers in ASHP, solar thermal and underfloor heating. 

“Due to the demand from the business community, we have a planned LCHT apprenticeship for March 2024.” 

What do you think? We’d love to get your views on whether you think the Low Carbon Heating Apprenticeship is a good idea and whether there are any barriers to installers taking this on in their own businesses. 

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