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Companies and educational groups across the UK and Europe are ramping up training programmes to close the burgeoning green skills gap, as demand surges for workers that can install and maintain renewable energy sources.
The training targets the areas of greatest immediate shortage, including heat pump and solar panel installation, residential and commercial building upgrades and electric vehicle charging installation.
Across Europe, more than 1mn solar workers will be needed in the next seven years to meet 2030 renewable energy targets, the SolarPower Europe industry body estimates.
In the UK alone, PwC forecasts that up to 66,000 new heating engineers, insulation specialists and glaziers will need to be added to the workforce each year in the medium term.
Many skills in demand, however, require a high level of professional and scientific expertise that involves years of training, rather than weeks or months. Roles in nuclear power, and safety and engineering made up more than half of the job advertisements surveyed by labour market analytics company Lightcast. Mechanical and electrical engineer positions accounted for another 20 per cent of “green” vacancies, it found.
But for roles that do not require several years of education, corporate in-house training and technical academy programmes are attempting to fill the gap.
The British renewable energy group Octopus runs a training centre in the industrial area of Slough, where it says it can provide fully funded training for up to 1,000 staff a year in installing renewable energy systems.
“Most of [those] who we employ right now are people who have some experience in gas or heating and are thinking about whether there will be a career installing gas boilers in five or 10 years from now,” says Octopus energy services chief executive John Szymik.
Training is carried out in two full-sized houses where staff can practice removing gas boilers and installing heat pumps, as well as how to interact with customers and explain the new technology to them. Szymik says it usually takes three to four weeks to retrain new staff.
Munich-based renewable energy company BayWa r.e. started an internal “engineering academy” this year, running courses attended by around 40 staff a month, mostly by would-be solar engineers.
Statkraft, another renewables provider headquartered in Oslo, is offering stints in design and procurement across different types of renewable energy projects.
Recruitment companies are also taking advantage of government-funded schemes aimed at training the workforce of the future.
The UK’s new £5mn heat training grant offers £500 towards learning how to install heat pumps at 60 approved training centres. The government has also pledged £8.9mn to train retrofitters, and promised a heating technician apprenticeship scheme later this year. Another £63mn is earmarked for “returnerships”, which would include green reskilling, designed to attract those aged 50 and above who are looking to re-enter the workforce.
The UK-based employment group Reed last month launched a green jobs arm aimed at recruiting 1,000 each year, in partnership with the Oxford Energy Academy, a heating and plumbing training and assessment centre.
The training will involve building insulation, double-glazing, improved ventilation design and installation of more efficient heating systems.
Reed Environment said it would target those registered as unemployed, as well as local businesses and authorities, with the training supported by the fees paid by the participants and the government grants.
The Oxford Energy Academy also offers training in EV charger and solar panel installations, paid for by self-employed individuals and companies. Most of those it trains are already established as plumbers, electricians and engineers, it says.
“We get a mixed bag in each classroom, some people sail through the course in three days, other take five. It depends on their level of knowledge and plumbing skills going in,” said OEA director David Bendell.
Reed Environment director Tom Hoines says that retrofitting also offers an opportunity for new starters, such as school leavers, as well as those changing jobs. “You don’t need years of experience or an existing qualification,” he notes.
London-based education provider City and Guilds has also launched courses in EV charger installation and retrofitting, which can be funded by the government depending on age and income, and has awarded bursaries to disadvantaged individuals to train in EV charger installation.
But industry associations note there remain large hurdles to developing at scale and speed the skill base needed for the green energy shift among existing small business owners.
Many tradespeople are self-employed, so taking time out to reskill carries a risk of lost income.
“I think we’ve got to be mindful that the £500 might cover the cost of the course, but it won’t cover the amount of money they would have made in the five days they haven’t worked,” says Charlotte Lee, chief executive of the Heat Pump Association in the UK, estimating that about 40,000 people from its membership base could be trained to install heat pumps each year.
Tradespeople nearing the end of their working lives also may not see an incentive in preparing for new technologies.
“The question for some of them is ‘can I just keep doing what I’m doing for a few more years until retirement?’” says Carl Sizer, PwC UK’s head of regions.