The government is expected to launch a campaign to recruit and train a generation of ‘climate heroes’ who can help install the clean technologies that will be key to boosting the UK’s energy security and achieving its climate goals.
This is one of the key recommendations of a new report released today by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think tank, which warns that concerted action is needed to tackle the looming skills shortages that could derail the UK’s net zero transition.
The report focuses on the government’s target to install up to 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028 to reduce emissions from homes and buildings. The government is set to launch a new boiler upgrade grant scheme to encourage people to switch from gas boilers to electric heat pumps, while new rules are set to ban the use of boilers gas in new homes from 2025. But industry insiders have long warned that meeting the new targets could be jeopardized by a shortage of skilled installers.
Today’s SMF report, which will be published in partnership with a cross-party group of MPs and the European Climate Foundation, echoes those warnings. Based on in-depth interviews with industry leaders and workers, the report found that many plumbers and boiler installers want to support the shift to clean technologies, but often lack clear incentives to take the training that would allow them to install heat pumps.
At the same time, the sector is struggling to attract a sufficient number of new entrants to meet the anticipated increase in demand that is expected as heat pump costs fall and demand for heating systems rises. ecological increases.
As such, the report argues that the government should launch a national ‘charm offensive’ to encourage more people to take training in installing green heating and show plumbers the financial and environmental benefits of supporting the transition to heat pumps. It also urges ministers to push through reforms that would boost demand for heat pumps and improve access to high quality, reasonably priced training services.
Specifically, it calls on the government to stimulate consumer demand by strengthening the boiler upgrade program; launch a clear national information campaign on phasing out fossil fuel heating for installers and consumers; consider granting tax relief to individual contractors and independent installers when they are in conversion; and set clear training and certification standards for all heat pump installers.
Amy Norman, senior researcher at SMF, said switching to heat pumps should also be seen as a way to reduce the UK’s exposure to soaring wholesale gas prices.
“Energy bills are going up because we are too dependent on imported gas bought on international markets where prices are skyrocketing,” she said. “Removing gas from home heating will help reduce this demand and protect households from this volatility, so the plumbers and installers involved will be doing the country a great service.
“Plumbers and heating installers are going to be absolutely essential to the huge national effort to take carbon out of our home heating. But right now they don’t have the clarity or the incentives they need to follow a training on installing heat pumps. We need a dramatic call from the government to summon a generation of climate heroes who will remove carbon from our homes.”
She also argued that any new campaign should focus on the hugely important role plumbers will play in the transition to net zero. “The message is clear: your country needs you trained to install the heat pumps that will help make UK homes cleaner, greener and less reliant on expensive imported gas,” she said. “To seize the opportunity of a Net Zero economy, we are going to need many more plumbers and heating installers, but the sector fears that too few young people want to enter the trade. Ministers should use the message government the power to celebrate plumbers and heating installers as ‘climate heroes’ playing a vital role in creating a greener future.”
His comments were echoed by Tory MP, Peter Aldous, who argued that ‘making sure we have more workers with the skills to give Britain greener homes and reduce our use of expensive gas must be a national priority”.
“The report shows people from all political backgrounds that with the right policies and priorities, Net Zero will deliver a better economy, rich in opportunities for skilled and rewarding work,” he added.
The report came on the same day as the Forestry Commission launched a unique apprenticeship initiative to mark the start of National Apprenticeship Week which aims to encourage more people to enter the forestry industry.
The Development Woodland Officer program will be run jointly by the Forestry Commission, the University of Cumbria and the Institute of Chartered Foresters, and will provide a paid three-year development opportunity for people wishing to start a career in forestry. Up to 45 Forest Development Officer positions are expected to be created over the next three years, with the first cohort of 15 officers starting in September this year.
“This new program offers an exciting new career path in forestry for people of all backgrounds and abilities,” said Forestry Commission Chief Executive Richard Stanford. “It offers the unique opportunity to gain practical experience, a BSc (Hons) and the possibility of achieving Chartered Forester status with the Institute of Chartered Foresters. Forestry Commission apprentices will be paid and will obtain all these qualifications, with no tuition fees and no need for a student loan.
“We are looking for ambitious and driven people who want to support our ambitious tree planting plans and ensure that our precious woods and forests continue to thrive for generations to come.”
The announcement follows the release of the England Trees Action Plan, which plans to triple tree planting rates in England during this Parliament, funded by an expected £500million from Nature for Climate fund.
And in other green skills news, engineering firm Assystem announced today that it is looking to recruit 450 people in the UK to work on low-carbon projects at its sites in Blackburn, Bristol, Derby and London.
The roles are designed to support the company’s work on new nuclear, rail and other low-carbon infrastructure projects, which are expected to expand rapidly in the coming years.
“It’s an exciting time for Assystem in the UK, our business is fully aligned with delivering the UK’s decarbonisation plan to meet its net zero commitments, so we need to have a strong team in place to deliver these new infrastructure projects,” said Simon Barber, managing director of Assystem in the UK.
“Today the UK is in a new era of building energy technology, delivering new electrified transport infrastructure and major nuclear new build and nuclear decommissioning programmes… Our growth in the UK will along with our commitment to invest in the training and development of our employees and to build the diverse workforce of tomorrow.”
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