Heat pump skills gap opens opportunities for installers and trainers

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Shortages of skilled installers for heat pumps are set to drive up opportunities for those qualified and for training specialists

A much larger pool of skilled installers is urgently needed to ensure the future replacement of gas boilers by heat pumps as the economy decarbonises, a study has found.

The study, published in Building Research & Information, has revealed inadequate vocational education and training, pointing to major opportunities for both installers and firms running training courses.1

The author, Dr Colin Gleeson of the University of Westminster, identifies a lack of broader educational content and deficiencies in engineering knowledge.

The UK aims to install 600,000 heat pumps by 2020 as part of its climate and energy goals. But the advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says 2.5 - 4 million heat pumps are needed by 2030 to meet carbon budgets.

Gleeson said: “Field trial results indicate a failure in the design and installation of heat pump systems. This is linked to the lack of appropriate knowledge, skills and competence for creating optimum performance.”

“Few UK installers have formal heat pump qualifications at NVQ [National Vocational Qualifications] level 3. Heat pump vocational education and training is generally offered through short-courses with no strict adherence to a common syllabus or a detailed training centre specification.”

A Microgeneration Scheme, supported by DECC, has produced technical guidance and initial training workshops in an effort to kick-start the training process. But the UK domestic heating industry has yet to embrace this and implement requirements for installers.

Professor Tadj Oreszczyn is Professor of energy and environment at the Bartlett School for Environment, Energy & Resources at University College London. He pointed out that: “Historically domestic heating installers have required less skills due to the robust nature of 'combi' boiler performance. Heat pumps will need to reverse this trend."

1 Gleeson, CP. Residential heat pump installations: the role of vocational education and training. Building Research & Information, 11 September 2015