Staff shortages delay heat pump installations 

Heat pump engineers say staff shortages are the biggest barrier to meeting demand for installations, a comprehensive UK survey finds.

Green house

Nesta, the innovation charity, analysed 345 responses from heat pump installers, in partnership with industry experts, between October and November 2023.

A third of respondents (30%) reported that finding suitable additional staff was the top obstacle to installing more heat pumps, second only to a lack of customer demand (41%).

Heat pump engineers cite customer reluctance due to high costs and cheaper quotes from competitors, even with government grants. This highlights the need for additional finance schemes for heat pump installations.

Recruitment hurdle: greater challenge for larger businesses

recruitment poses an even greater challenge for larger businesses. Among companies with 6 or more staff, 41% identified finding additional staff as the biggest barrier.

This recruitment hurdle is significant as many heat pump firms aim to expand, with 81% of businesses with 6 or more employees likely to hire new staff in the next 12 months.

Heat pump businesses need to boost skills in core areas like heat loss surveying (16%), administration (14%), heating system design (13%), plumbing (11%), and F-Gas training (11%). For companies with 6 or more staff, broader skills are also crucial for growth, with sales and marketing being the top desired skill, rising from 18% overall to 28% for larger firms.

Smaller heat pump businesses

Smaller heat pump businesses—sole traders and those with 1-5 employees—show much lower confidence in the training levels of graduates from apprenticeship schemes compared to larger companies. around 60% of sole traders and 66% of small business owners have little or no confidence in recent graduates’ training, particularly in practical heat pump installation and general plumbing skills.

Nesta’s previous research has suggested that around 37,000 installers might be needed by 2030 to deliver on the UK’s net zero commitments.  

Oliver Zanetti, mission manager of sustainable future at Nesta, said: “Heat pump installers in Britain are getting on with the job of helping people decarbonise their homes. While political uncertainty has caused some disruption in the heat pump market, the UK has a committed and expert core heat pump installer workforce. 
“Any policymaker that wants the UK to meet its net zero targets should be listening to what installers are actually saying and helping to grow the industry. We conducted the first survey of heat pump installers run in close collaboration with industry to understand the blockers and opportunities it faces.

“It’s clear that staff recruitment continues to be an issue for an industry that needs to expand to meet future demand. To recruit the next generation of installers, colleges and industry must work together to improve apprenticeship courses.” 

Taking on new staff

Nathan Gambling, heat pump training consultant and host of BetaTalk podcast, said: “The report highlights the importance of Umbrella Schemes and BetaTeach will continue to observe how the different types of Umbrella Schemes can engender competence and support learning. The survey also drew attention to the fact that practical experience with heat pumps is important for employers wishing to take on new staff.  

“The awarding bodies who issue heat pump qualifications are benefiting from Government financial support towards training. Yet the training, with no on-site practical experience or assessment, does not offer employers what they need. Arguably, financial and business support should exist for competent employers wishing to mentor and train the gas engineers looking to transition into heat pumps.” 

Emma Bohan, managing director of IMS Heat Pumps, said: “The survey results show an existing, dedicated workforce able to install more heat pumps now, if the awareness amongst the general public was raised. To be able to grow the existing installer base, the call is loud and clear – support better access to training channels that can deliver apprentices and upskilled engineers with quality hands-on experience. 
“These two key learnings, combined with a request for staff and digital tools to assist with administration and a reduction in the overall burden of paperwork for installers and we will see a heating industry that is fully equipped to help people move from fossil fuel heating to heat pumps.”