Iain Bevan, commercial director for heating & renewables at Daikin UK, looks at the growing skills gap in relation to heat pumps and explains how leading manufacturers can help by providing high-quality training opportunities.
Research conducted by the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) showed that around 22,000 heat pumps were installed in the UK in 2017 – an increase of 18% from the previous year.
While the increase in installations and government support for heat pumps is promising news for the renewable heating industry, there are still major concerns around whether the industry has the skill base required to deliver further growth.
In a recent paper Dr. Terry Keech, Partner at Calfordseaden found that most knowledge held by the workforce relating to the installation of renewable technologies is tactic knowledge, which is learned on site for the installation task at hand. However, due to the short term nature of the jobs, learning is fractured and often not documented – resulting in poor knowledge transfer.
He cited the nature of the businesses themselves as a key reason, with 52% of M&E contractors classed as sole traders who often feel they are too busy to take time off for formal training. With many in the trade set to retire in the coming years, the concern is that even self-taught skills will be lost.
Manufacturers have a role to play, in equipping the current and future workforce with the knowledge and skills required to embrace renewable technology. However, not all training is the same – and for participants to feel that a day off-site has been worthwhile, providers have a duty to deliver high quality, technical instruction that goes beyond a sell for their latest product.
Good training should encompass a number of elements. At the most basic level, providing accessible places to learn is key – and many manufacturers have recognised this by opening regional training centres to cut down travel time.
In terms of the training itself, comprehensive courses should combine both classroom and practical elements. Hands-on learning is, of course, essential and participants should expect a well-resourced training centre to have a number of working rigs for real life experience of installation, commissioning and fault finding.
Courses should also be well-rounded, as having the knowledge to install a renewable technology such as an air source heat pump is only part of the equation. Installers also need to know how to size and spec a system – and equally as important how to offer advice and guidance to a customer who might consider switching to the new technology.
Developed with all of the above in mind, Daikin has seven training centres that include two regional technical college centres. Training typically involves a day long course that is led by an industry expert, such as one of our technical engineers, who can provide a comprehensive overview of the technology.
Daikin UK has also developed online training modules for installers. These modules allow the installer to increase their knowledge of air-source heat pump and refrigerant technology away from the classroom, and means that more time can be spent on the practical elements of installing air-source heat pump technology.
On-going support can also be valuable. Daikin’s Key scheme, for example, offers domestic installers further support by providing commissioning support on new technologies and access to a dedicated technical hotline.
As the adopting of heat pumps continues to increase, so will demand for skilled installers. Forward-thinking businesses should take advantage of the training and partner programmes offered by leading manufacturers, to ensure they plug the skills gap in the energy and renewables market, and stay ahead in a changing heating landscape.