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These are challenging times for keeping the learning going, with businesses struggling and other priorities taking over. But with ever-changing legislation and improvements to product and installation standards, ongoing training and learning in the plumbing and heating industry is as crucial as ever. Gary Perry, MD of Altecnic, calls for manufacturers, installers and the wider industry to work together to ensure the skills gap doesn’t widen and to continue to deliver higher standards across the sector.
A recent survey by the Institute of Student Employers revealed that 23% of employers are cutting their apprenticeship and school leaver programmes due to the coronavirus – a worrying stat given that there are an estimated 120,000 plumbing and heating engineers in the UK, and many of these will have started their training after school and/or through an apprenticeship.
However, the majority of employers have reacted quickly to the pandemic, moving their application processes online and onboarding their new apprentices remotely.
The government is encouraging providers to help apprentices carry on their training and learning from home, and even if they have to take a break from their apprenticeship, to enable them to continue with their apprenticeship when they can do so and not miss out.
They have also provided guidance on providing apprenticeships during the coronavirus outbreak, a summary of which can be found on the FE Week website.
So, overall the intent is there from most companies and the government to continue current apprenticeships to the best of their abilities.
However, with businesses struggling and having to cut costs, will this affect the number of apprentices they can take on board in the future? With companies up to a certain size being able to apply for government funding to pay for most of an apprentice’s training, then hopefully this won’t be the case. And, as of May 2020, there has been no announcement from the government that the funding will be withdrawn moving forward.
Apprentices are the future of our industry so it’s vital that our we continue to recruit and support them.
Of course, not all learning and training is done through apprenticeships. Training must be a career-long activity, particularly in practical professions like plumbing and heating. So, with the business downturn due to the coronavirus, training might be an obvious thing to shelve to reduce spending.
However, this would be a very short-sighted thing to do and in our industry is actually impractical and dangerous. Standards, legislation and innovation are constantly moving. Stand still and you will no longer be working in the most efficient, eco-friendly and, most importantly, safest way.
As leaders in providing the industry with safe and compliant hydronic solutions, we understand the role that manufacturers must play in working with the industry and regulatory bodies to improve product knowledge and installation techniques. This way we can be sure to meet the ever-changing standards as well as meet building, energy efficiency and water regulations.
The starting point is to improve access and awareness of new products that comply with recognised quality standards and that help ensure installations are both safe and effective. To achieve this, it’s important that everyone working in the industry from apprentices to experienced installers and specifiers take responsibility to educate themselves to ensure they are aware of the latest standards and procedures.
Although this is currently self-regulating, a lack of training can put installers at a commercial disadvantage by reducing the scope of the work they are able to undertake. Equally, there are real opportunities for installers to invest their time in securing the right accreditations needed to grow the range of work they are able to offer. In broadening their skills and qualifications they will see an improvement in customer confidence and commercial opportunities.
There is a wealth of information already available for installers from industry bodies such as CIPHE, the Bathroom Manufacturers’ Association, and the APHC. At Altecnic, we also take our responsibilities very seriously and have a training division set up to promote best practice as well as provide access to product and installation advice.
Learning in the time of the pandemic
So, with the double whammy of a reduced budget and inability to run or complete training face to face or in a socially-distanced environment, how can we ensure that our plumbers and installers don’t fall behind on their learning?
One way is through online tuition, particularly via web conferencing tools such as Skype or Zoom or through online events or videos. This is something we at Altecnic have stepped up since Autumn last year, with more content on our YouTube channel, headed up by our technical manager, Ed Morris. Ed gives practical information on solving issues such as automatically removing air from heating systems and step-by-step guides on installing products.
Internally we have also been using this time when more of our employees have been at home to increase their product knowledge with online training sessions via Microsoft Teams. This has not only been with our staff in the UK but also our colleagues in Italy too.
We have also been working with BESA (the Building Engineering Services Association) to provide learning to its members, including a recent live online session about the history of legionella as a disease and how we control it within the water system.
And in May, along with many of our industry colleagues, we have taken part in our first Installer Festival, the first virtual industry gathering, brought about as direct results of the Coronavirus, where we ran an online training session on Thermostatic Mixing Valves (TMVs). The video has since been made available on our YouTube channel for everyone to view.
Moving forward, we are going to be creating further training videos to go on YouTube which will be more hands on. The videos will be shot from overhead, showing products and their components in full detail such as TMVs and how to service them and take them apart.
Although it can take years of training to become a properly qualified plumber or heating engineer, the changing nature of the industry means that those who follow a career in plumbing need to prepare themselves for a programme of continued learning. Taking a considered career approach and a desire for learning helps operators to keep abreast of the new advances in the rapidly changing technologies and legislative change.
We want to make sure that whether we can meet up in person or not, there is no reason why our industry cannot keep up to speed with the latest changes.
Whilst work might be quieter and more people are spending time at home, now is an ideal time to keep on top of learning and training or gain/develop new skills.
Lots of companies, colleges and universities have moved their learning online to reflect the lockdown situation but plumbing and heating is a very hands on profession.
Heating and plumbing engineers can email Altecnic’s dedicated mailbox to explore what training and development opportunities there are at firstname.lastname@example.org – most of these are free of charge!
As leaders in hydronic solutions, we believe we are well placed to help build a bridge to cross the gap that exists between heating and plumbing engineers, manufacturers and regulatory bodies. Our aim is to help installers adopt a ‘right first time’ approach as by getting it right first time, plumbing and heating engineers will not only save time and money, but also benefit from satisfied customers and the subsequent repeat business that this brings.