New wave of funding could drown ambitions

The latest wave of funding from the Department of Education under its ‘Skills Bootcamp’ scheme, should provide a boost for plumbing and heating installers looking to upskill into renewables. However, with unnecessary amounts of time spent in the classroom stipulated as a condition of support, Griff Thomas from GTEC Training argues that despite good intentions, this appears to be yet another Government scheme launched without industry consultation, potentially leading to despondency and frustration amongst training providers and installers.

When it comes to encouraging installers to train in renewables, it seems like no one actually asked training providers or stakeholders how long it takes to upskill and train. The Department for Education (DfE) has just announced the third wave of money available through the National Skills Fund for its Skills Bootcamp scheme, which cuts training costs by up to 70% in order to create jobs and fill skill shortages – so far, so good.

The third wave includes funding for training in renewable technologies like heat pumps, solar photovoltaics and electric vehicle charge point installation; an opportunity that could make a real difference to installers looking to future-proof their skills and build resilience in a fast-evolving industry.

As a training provider, I was initially excited by this prospect, ready to apply for the funding to pass onto GTEC’s candidates. Unfortunately, however, it appears that yet again, industry professionals have not been properly consulted, leading to what feels like a rushed scheme designed on the basis of targets rather than actual outcomes.

Training for the sake of it

To bid for funding, training providers are required to provide a minimum of 60 guided learning hours (GLH) – three times the number of hours needed to upskill a heating engineer to air source heat pump (ASHP) installation.

Even if we combined Level 3 ASHP training with pre-requisite qualifications (WRAS Water Regulations or Energy Efficiency – which candidates may or may not require) and complimentary short-courses, our ‘best case scenario’ would still only deliver 45 GLH. Similar issues arise with the solar photovoltaics installer course (35 GLH) and electric vehicle (EV) charging point installation course (16 GLH).

In practice, 60 GLH of training would mean we are asking installers to attend a complex combination of courses, most of which they do not need to be competent to install the technology concerned.

Wasting time in training centres to meet funding requirements is of no benefit to anyone, all it does is intensify the growing frustration of installers.

If ever there was an opportunity for a solution, I’d suggest an amendment to the invitation to tender (ITT) under the green skill lot to permit a minimum of 20 GLH, which would make it practical and achievable for both delivery and installer expectations.

Support the low carbon economy

We know heat pumps will play a key role in heating UK homes in a low carbon society but government plans for mass deployment will remain on paper unless more funding and effort is put into training and development. We desperately need a secure base of skilled and qualified MCS heat pump installers and this feels like a missed opportunity.

This is mirrored in the electrical industry for the transition to electric vehicles and the huge number of charge points required to ensure a viable infrastructure.

Funding schemes that don’t fit existing and well defined delivery models encourage companies to set-up hoping to make a quick buck, rather than supporting existing providers to deliver accredited qualifications that ensure engineers have the skills to meet Net Zero targets and contribute to the low carbon economy.

With energy prices going through the roof, now more than ever we need a trained installer base ready to help consumers make the switch to greener, more efficient heat, power and transport alternatives. Ill-thought out schemes such as this only serve to stall progress, doing the very opposite of their intended purpose.

GTEC is a leading renewables training provider, based in Hawes, North Yorkshire. For more information, visit: www.gtec.co.uk.

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