Nigel Hollett, Head of Environmental Technologies, SummitSkills: "It is clear that the BSE workforce are best placed to meet the unique needs and challenges presented by the roll-out of renewable technologies"

In this exclusive interview, Nigel Hollett, talks to Renewable Energy Magazine about the new SummitSkills environmental technology training research and about how the UK must react to ensure its labour market can plug the emerging skills gap in the renewable energy industry before it has a negative effect on productivity.
Nigel Hollett, Head of Environmental Technologies, SummitSkills: "It is clear that the BSE workforce are best placed to meet the unique needs and challenges presented by the roll-out of renewable technologies"

SummitSkills is the UK’s Sector Skills Council for Building Services Engineering (BSE). The sector comprises the electrotechnical, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, refrigeration and plumbing industries. SummitSkills works in partnership with BSE employers, stakeholders and key partners across the UK to provide a coordinated approach to the issues that affect them. This is to ensure that all those who work in the sector are equipped with the right skills at the right levels to enable them to be efficient and effective, increasing not only their productivity but also that of the sector.

SummitSkills recently published new research showing that overall engagement in environmental technologies is increasing in the BSE sector, and that this shift in focus is putting pressure on the labour market to keep up with demand for the skills required to design, install and maintain solar arrays, Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems, Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP), bio-fuel and other renewable energy facilities.

Potential Training Demand in Environmental Technologies in Building Services Engineering: Stage 1 is the first of a set of three reports analysing trends in the sector’s engagement with renewables and the potential impact of these trends on training demands across the UK. SummitSkills interviewed approximately 2000 companies in 2008 and then again in 2009, and identified that there is a significant amount that still needs to be done to up-skill the BSE sector to meet potential short-term demand, which in economic modelling terms is two years, for trained operatives. Nigel Hollett is Head of Environmental Technologies at SummitSkills, leading on the green agenda for the BSE sector, engaging stakeholders and enhancing SummitSkills’ profile in this area. Setting occupational standards, developing qualifications and ensuring competency of those working with environmental technologies are key to Nigel’s role, as well as influencing policy at the highest level.

Interview date: December, 2010

Interviewer: Toby Price

Firstly, could you explain what circumstances led to SummitSkills focusing on renewables-related skills shortages in the Building Services Engineering (BSE) sector?

This was largely based on our labour market information work and engagement with the sector, which identified that there was a need for a focus on renewables-related skills. Another key driver included the overarching government commitments to the development of a low carbon UK. Specific proposals, for example, included for financial incentives that are now being realised as the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Feed-in Tariffs.

Did the BSE sector not see this problem coming? After all, other countries around Europe (especially Germany) have over a decade’s experience of installing considerable amounts of building-integrated renewable energy. Could we not have learnt from them beforehand to ensure the skills were already in place to meet demand?

SummitSkills is an employer-led organisation that coordinates the skills needs of the BSE sector. In listening to and researching the needs of the sector and assessing the external environment, it is clear that the BSE workforce are best placed to meet the unique needs and challenges presented by the roll-out of renewable technologies.

In response to these opportunities we have put in place an environmental technology strategy that will help employers in our sector take advantage of future opportunities. When dealing with any skills development issue it is critical to understand that our mandate from Government and the employers we represent is not to create demand for skills or to cajole employers, it is to inform demand and signpost opportunity. By doing this we empower employers to take the right decisions for their businesses.

Could you give a brief overview of opportunities for employers and employees in renewable energies these most affect?

Again, the financial incentives confirmed as part of the comprehensive spending review are favourable to all those with an interest in developing the sector. If demand from consumers increases then by default demand for good installers will be created and hence appropriate skills will be necessary.

What is being done now to close these skills gaps and which are the key organisations working to do so?

SummitSkills is involved in a wide range of activity related to the upskilling of our sector to meet the demand for environmental technologies. The National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies is an excellent example of this and we are hopeful that our business plan submitted to Government will be successful. If this is the case then a network of regional hubs and centres of excellence will be supported to enable them to further develop the already high quality provision they are involved in.

SummitSkills says on its website that: “There’s a huge challenge ahead for employers to have the right skills in place to adapt and respond to new system designs and working practice”. How are businesses themselves reacting to the emerging skills gap? Are they investing in re-skilling existing staff or turning to other related industries to bring in competent people? Are staff also being sourced from outside the UK or is the industry committed to sourcing homegrown talent?

The progression of environmental skills in the BSE industry is a long process and is not something that can be achieved overnight. We have found in recent research that engagement in environmental technologies is on the increase and businesses are looking to increase their environmental expertise, but currently there are not enough trained operatives in the UK.

The report Potential Training Demand in Environmental Technologies in Building Services Engineering: Stage 1 found that with the exception of Combined Heat and Power (CHP), Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP), bio-fuel and fuel cell, the environmental technologies are showing an increase in both engagement and the reported numbers of operatives that have been formally trained. The reduction in CHP engagement may be a cause for concern given the technology’s status as a major green technology in the Government’s Energy White Paper.

We’ve known for some time there is a gap between supply and demand in the renewable market, and this is only set to increase, particularly in the domestic market now the Government has given the green light to the continuation of the Renewable Heat Incentive and Feed-in-Tariffs.

What advice would you give to individuals who may be thinking of re-training to become renewable energy operatives in the BSE sector?

While SummitSkills does not give direct advice to individuals the general comment below should be helpful for those considering this.

Environmental Technologies are an extension to the work of existing workers in the building services engineering sector and, in order to install them, you have to be appropriately qualified in the relevant discipline. For example, if you want to train to install solar photovoltaic, you will need to be a qualified electrician in the first place or working towards becoming one. The technologies themselves do not sit under one job role, either. It is not possible, for example, for an electrician to install solar hot water systems as this is the work of a plumber or heating installer. Additionally, the technologies are quite technical and installation problems will occur unless the installer has the relevant baseline discipline.

Unfortunately, therefore, there is no route to becoming a microgeneration/renewables installer other than through those approved by the industry.

SummitSkills recently published its environmental strategy document through to 2013. Could you explain how SummitSkills will be working on behalf of the BSE sector to ensure its capacity to meet growing demand for building-integrated renewable energy is not restricted by a shortage of skills?

The whole focus of the strategy is to enable employers to meet demand through partnership working and engagement.

An example of where we are actively involved is through our work on influencing the skills aspects of the Government’s consultation on the Microgeneration Strategy for England. We are playing a key role in this and were delighted that the independent report from industry to Government highlighted our proposed National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies as a “deal breaker”.

We have operations managers throughout the UK who spend the majority of their time engaging with the BSE sector. Through this process we pass on advice, take up issues that need addressing and help them with their issues. One specific example is through our role on the steering group of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. We have logged a number of issues that our sector has raised, and at the next meeting we will raise these so they can be addressed.

SummitSkills is leading the development of the Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies on behalf of the sector. Could you explain what the Academy’s priority areas will be in terms of renewables-related training provision and how your research has helped shape this provision?

As mentioned, our LMI work and engagement with the sector has identified that there is a need for a focus on renewables-related skills. We have been working recently on the development of a National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies which aims to co-ordinate skills training in design, installation and maintenance of environmental technologies. This will play a key role in developing the ability for businesses in the sector to access the training and skills they will need to meet future increased demand for the installation of these technologies in the UK.

Through the Skills Academy, SummitSkills hopes to transform the way the sector plans, develops and delivers renewable and environmental technology skills, providing:

•clarity, vision, direction and solutions for employers who need to train in these new technologies

•a single point of contact for nationwide green skills development

•a route to ensuring the economy has the workforce it needs to deliver the low carbon future

The National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies will focus on the following areas of skills development for the sector:

•Design skills: training in the full planning and installation process for environmental technologies, from the correct design and sizing of the renewable installations, to the best positioning of the product, through to its connection to the existing power and water systems and ongoing control.

•Product knowledge: delivery of knowledge around specific products and technical issues for each technology.

•Commissioning and maintenance: skills for the commissioning, maintenance and service of these technologies post-installation.

•Innovation, entrepreneurship and business development: developing the confidence of businesses to work with new technologies.

The Skills Academy will build on the core competencies in electrotechnical, HVACR and plumbing industries to help the sector understand new environmental technologies and how they should be integrated with existing systems to deliver maximum efficiency and carbon savings.

Developing, coordinating and planning the right skills at the right competency level will not only strengthen the provider network but will also improve the competitiveness of the sector, boost innovation and is likely to increase the investment in skills by employers.

Finally, the UK government has shown its commitment to clean energy, announcing significant investments in the Comprehensive Spending Review. Over £800 million have been earmarked for the renewable heat incentive for example, which will have a significant impact on the BSE sector. Clearly, any skills shortages could hinder getting renewable energy capacity into people’s homes. Looking ahead, what does SummitSkills believe the Government should do over the next few years in terms of public education and training provision to ensure this does not happen?

SummitSkills does not comment directly on Government policy but believe that the emphasis on skills and commitment to microgeneration and the environment is a positive development forward for the sector.

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