Heat pump installer numbers will have to grow

Over the next three decades, around 25 million fossil fuel boilers will need to be swapped for less polluting heating systems, but there is a growing risk that there will not be enough skilled people to do that work.

This is one of the conclusions in a new report from Nesta, which used MCS data to examine how the UK will have to grow its low-carbon heating industry in coming years to meet the government target of installing 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028.

While growing demand among consumers is vital to achieving the low carbon transition, the report argues that growing the supply of highly skilled engineers and having productive companies to employ them may be even more important, and challenging.

Training was highlighted as a significant issue. There is currently no single, clear route for someone new to the industry to train as a heat pump engineer, and training offers are fragmented and sometimes inconsistent. Providing clearer pathways, such as a low carbon heating apprenticeship, could make the training journey simpler, more comprehensible and attractive, the report states.

According to the study, there are an estimated 3000 trained heat pump engineers in the UK, and that will need to increase to at least 27,000 in the next six years, an average increase of 4000-6000 per year. This challenge means training more new engineers every year than there are currently in the whole industry.

To make this possible, industry will need to attract both experienced gas engineers and new entrants into installing heat pumps.

But training is only part of the problem, says the report. Heating engineers also require hands-on experience and guidance from experienced engineers in order to learn to do the job effectively. To get that hands-on experience, they need a company to work for, and currently the heating sector is dominated by micro-businesses and small traders who may not be able to supply this employment.

Nesta’s report also notes that the heating industry is one of the least diverse parts of the UK economy. Considering the high average age of engineers, and that many will be retiring within the next decade, Nesta says industry needs to cast the widest possible net to attract recruits who are currently underrepresented.

It also notes that there is currently no wage premium for installing heat pumps compared to gas boilers. Improving incentives to work in the low carbon heating sector should be an important priority for UK governments.

The report makes a number of recommendations to government and the industry including:

•  The government should appoint a body to oversee the expansion of the low carbon heating industry
•  Colleges, government and training providers should collaborate to establish direct training routes, implement hiring processes to attract a diverse workforce, improve public perception and understanding of heat pumps
•  The government should examine how to address the pay disparity between traditional heating installers and renewable heating installers
•  The government should provide training grants to incentivise traditional heating installers moving into the renewable industry and sharing their expertise
•  More formal support should be given to small companies looking to grow under umbrella arrangements

Read the Nesta report in full here.

Nesta produced this report using installation data gathered by MCS and stored in the MCS Installer Database. The MID is the most comprehensive reference for small scale, renewable energy installations in the UK. This data allows MCS to support the renewable heating and energy industry as an expert repository of information.

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