How upskilling is vital to hitting the UK's essential Net Zero targets for heating

How upskilling is vital to hitting the UK’s essential Net Zero targets for heating

Lance Hitchins, Head of Customer Training at Mitsubishi Electric UK

How upskilling is vital to hitting the UK's essential Net Zero targets for heating
Lance Hitchins

The heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) sector is playing – and will continue to play – a vital role in meeting the UK’s ambitious Net Zero heating targets. But without wider awareness and understanding of the profession’s significant role, we run the risk of failing to attract the next generation of talent into the industry. The repercussions of this could be critical for the planet.

This isn’t an exaggeration. I recently worked with skills charity Edge Foundation to raise awareness of the critical skills shortages facing the sector and why they needed addressing as a priority. HVAC touches every part of our built environment with skilled specifiers, installers and engineers responsible for making sure we are comfortable, whether in the home, at work, shopping, eating out, or even when doing laps in the hotel pool. Heating accounts for a staggering third of all UK carbon emissions, so evolving how we heat our buildings is essential to tackling climate change and reaching Net Zero.

How upskilling is vital to hitting the UK's essential Net Zero targets for heating

Yet, without the skills and headcount in the HVAC industry, we simply don’t have the ability to keep up with the rate of decarbonisation that the built environment demands. Thankfully, there’s a solution that looks at the existing pool of skilled individuals in the sector and helps them to specify and fit renewable heat pumps. At the same time, we can raise the profile of this vital, unseen sector to encourage more school leavers to consider it as a career.

The need to decarbonise

So, beyond the obvious environmental need, what other factors are driving the need for this green revolution? Well, consumer trends show that people are ever-more environmentally conscious and are demanding greener decision-making from businesses. This is supported by increasing regulations pushing towards more energy-efficient buildings and equipment.

On the regulation side, the British government has set an ambitious goal of 600,000 annual heat pump installations by 2028. This requires a tenfold increase in the number of installations over the next five years, but however ambitious, reaching this target is essential to achieving Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050.

With heating accounting for almost a third of all UK carbon emissions, the focus is now on transforming the landscape by decarbonising how we heat buildings. This requires moving away from oil and gas towards renewable solutions like heat pumps. With around 90% of UK homes technically already capable of being heated with a heat pump, and many businesses already looking to change to heat pumps, they can play a huge role in tackling climate change and reaching Net Zero. But, while regulators are pushing towards this goal by, for example, banning gas boilers in new build homes from 2025, there’s a distance between the theory and the practical implementation. The main barrier here is skills.

Heat pumps need to be designed, installed and commissioned correctly for each individual application, and this is where training and support are so important. Fortunately, the heating industry already has a strong base of consultants, installers and plumbers who already have the required skills – it’s about adapting them to fit technology that works in a different way from fossil fuels.

Here are three ways the industry can build advocacy for green skills:

Showcase how green jobs are future-proofed

The green sector is already a major employer – there were already 11.5 million jobs in renewable energy alone, according to an International Renewable Energy Agency 2020 report. The United Nations International Labour Organization says this is just the start – creating an additional 24 million jobs by 2030. Embracing the green economy is not only necessary for the environment but can help future-proof employment opportunities and create new ones.

Underline the financial benefits to the wider industry

Upskilling has financial advantages and gives the built environment future stability at large. Home and business owners are increasingly picking “green” heating solutions, with an estimated 50% rise in heat pump installs in 2021. By extending the range of services provided, professionals with the skillset to meet this increasing demand can tap into this upswing to find new areas of growth for their business.

Make training more readily available

By training and upskilling, those in the industry can build on their existing skills and benefit the future of their business. What’s more, training is typically flexible through a mixture of online learning and virtual workshops. This blended style can help industry professionals gain a comprehensive understanding – allowing them to pick the subject up faster. It’s all about applying existing knowledge in new ways rather than gaining totally new skills.

For the UK to reach Net Zero, education and training are essential. Not only will those working in the built environment – including consultants and engineers – become more familiar with heat pump technologies as gas boilers become obsolete, but it will also help highlight the career opportunities for new generations of up-and-coming specialists.

If you would like to know more about the training courses available, please visit: https://les.mitsubishielectric.co.uk/installers/installer-training

Consultant Focus - HVAC Solutions