Not enough trained operatives to serve UK renewable energy industry

Following on from his successful presentation at the "Closing the Renewable Energy Skills Gap" workshop held in London mid-November, Nigel Hollett, Head of Environmental Technologies at SummitSkills (the UK’s Sector Skills Council for Building Services Engineering), met up with Renewable Energy Magazine to discuss the strategies his organisation are putting into place to fulfill the skills needs of the renewables sector.

The Building Services Engineering (BSE) 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, one of which is the rising demand for skills in the UK’s renewable energy sector.

SummitSkills’ recently published research entitled Potential Training Demand in Environmental Technologies in Building Services Engineering: Stage 1 analyses trends in the sector’s engagement with renewables and the potential impact of these trends on training demands across the UK. After interviewing approximately 2,000 companies in 2008 and then again in 2009, Hollett and his team found that there is a significant amount that still needs to be done to up-skill the BSE sector to meet potential short-term demand for trained operatives in the clean tech space.

Specifically, SummitSkills reports that the labour market is under pressure 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, biofuel and other renewable energy facilities. Interestingly, demand for skills varies from one area to another. While it was found that demand for solar thermal, CHP and heat pump related skills appear to be most on the rise in England, in Northern Ireland for instance, the top three technologies that the BSE sector is considering engaging in the near future are photovoltaic, micro wind and solar thermal.

SummitSkills found that the sum of training needs (849,272 operatives in England and 186,282 in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) is more than the total of operatives in the sector, however it highlights that “it is entirely feasible and desirable for operatives in the sector to be trained in more than one technology”.

Hollett notes that key drivers of this increase in demand for such skills includes the overarching government commitments to the development of a low carbon UK, which includes specific proposals such as the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Feed-In Tariffs. “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,” Hollett explained during a recent exclusive interview with Renewable Energy Magazine. “We have put in place an environmental technology strategy that will help employers in our sector take advantage of future opportunities. We empower employers to take the right decisions for their businesses.”

Hollett cites the National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies as an excellent example of this work, and reveals that if SummitSkills business plan submitted recently to Government is successful, a network of regional hubs and centres of excellence will be supported to enable them to further develop the already high quality training provision they are involved in. Nevertheless, Hollett warns that “the progression of environmental skills in the BSE industry is a long process and is not something that can be achieved overnight”.

“Currently there are not enough trained operatives in the UK,” he stresses. That said, it is clear that SummitSkills is playing a significant role in boosting skills provision to the renewables sector. “The whole focus of the strategy is to enable employers to meet demand through partnership working and engagement,” says Hollet, “We are playing a key role in this and were delighted that the independent report from [the BSE] industry to Government highlighted our proposed National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies as a ‘deal breaker’”.

“We empower employers to take the right decisions for their businesses,” concludes Hollet.

The full interview with Nigel Hollett is available here:

Exclusive interview with Nigel Hollett, SummitSkills


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