The Renewable Heating Sector and why we need to develop the “skills of tomorrow”

Why do we need to develop a future workforce?

The Plumbing & Heating industry is struggling to find enough skilled and qualified people to fulfill the roles available.  This is even more apparent when trying to find renewable heating engineers, as this sector is in a growth period.

The trend towards alternative ‘renewable’ sources for domestic and commercial heating has been driven by three major factors.

Firstly global pressures to reduce reliance on fossil fuels as they are not replenishable, they are currently being used at a rapid rate by a growing world population, so will not be available for future generations.

Secondly and perhaps even more importantly, the need to reduce carbon emissions recognised as the root cause of global warming.
The Government reinforced its commitment to this goal as recently as on the 30th June 2016, in the Fifth Carbon Budget. This has set out new legally binding emissions reduction targets for 2030, which aims to cut greenhouse gases by 57% compared to 1990 levels during the period 2028 to 2032 and 80% by 2050, as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change.    

The third factor has been oil prices, currently these are low and this is actually depressing the natural ‘incentive’ that many people in Norfolk would have to retrofit a heat pump system. East Anglia having over 20% of households reliant on fuel other than mains gas and the highest proportion of households who rely on oil for heating, renewable heating technology meets a demand for those who wish to consider alternatives to fossil fuels.

At R A Brown, we have chosen to invest considerable time working with local training providers to essentially ‘sell’ them the idea that Norfolk will be a major market for heat pumps over the years to come and that local Employers such as ourselves really need to build training and accreditation in these technologies at Apprenticeship stage. The Framework has been in place since 2011 when the ‘environmental pathway’ optional units were built into the Level 3 NVQ for Heating Engineers.

We have developed a good relationship with JTL who had begun to deliver the Apprenticeship programme in conjunction with Construction Training Specialists from their Drayton Training Centre and therefore were able to open discussion with them around the need to offer a renewable pathway option for apprentices to provide training in Heat Pumps.

Gavin Springall, director at CTS said “we are here to serve an industry, we decided to commit to the heat pump pathway as after discussions with JTL and R A Brown, we understood the industry need. CTS have invested £25,000 in the plumbing department and have also received some financial support from JTL. We are learner and employee led and work hard to make sure employees and students enjoy the service. We have more apprentices than any other college and a high achievement rate of 90%”

Mike Bracey, NVQ tutor at CTS said “There has been a great deal of work and investment to set up the environmental heat pump pathway, this course will continue to evolve, it requires a great deal of work for apprentices to pass the heat pump element as it is a specialist subject”

Continuing to grow this specialist skill is crucial to our industry as without the skilled workforce, the industry finds itself with a skills gap in a growing market.  We encourage all employers to look to the future and support young people and apprentices in developing the right skills to support our growing industry.


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