A waiting game

The research undertaken by SummitSkills as part of the recent Sector Skills Agreement has revealed a general reluctance to engage in the renewables market throughout the building engineering services (BSE) industries.  The sector could clearly do more to meet the needs of the environment.  However, a large number of companies appear to be waiting for market stimulation before investing precious resources to develop their skills base and explore the business opportunities that renewable technologies offer.

Should the government, therefore, be doing more to stimulate the market by insisting renewable technologies are used in all new building projects?  This is one way forward, but introducing more stringent regulations may have an adverse effect by leading to inappropriate installations where the technology is not suited to the property or site conditions.  The Code for Sustainable Homes already provides a sufficient and flexible framework for the construction of new homes, but I think it would be better to introduce incentives and rewards to encourage developers to achieve the highest level of sustainability in each installation.

There is no doubt that the government will continue to produce legislation to address environmental issues.  The use of power from renewable energy is 40% behind the government target and it will become essential, to help reduce current failings, that the BSE sector begins to install a significant number of environmental technologies; including solar, biomass, wind turbines and combined heat and power.

Worryingly, SummitSkills’ research findings highlighted that the BSE sector’s current activities in the renewable energy field are extremely limited and skills competence is low.  Combined heat and power in particular has not been exploited and as a result the sector will be unable to give adequate support to the government’s ambitions for this technology as stated in the recent energy White Paper.

It can only be a matter of time before government stimulation of the market causes demand for environmental solutions to BSE applications to increase dramatically.  Its reluctance to engage in the renewables market will potentially damage the sector’s profitability.  This could encourage international competition to take advantage of the UK’s skills deficit by entering the market.  The productivity of the sector could fall further behind foreign competition as craft operatives and engineers become less skilled compared to their overseas counterparts.

BSE businesses must consider investing in new technology skills training now to prepare their workforce for the challenges ahead.  This is particularly crucial as the existing training provider network would be unable to cope with a sudden increase in demand for environmental technologies if the renewable energy market is stimulated.  Training in renewables remains largely the preserve of manufacturers.  The current supply of training opportunities is inadequate both in quantity, and in relation to formal qualification and measurement against national standards.

Although there are a number of certificated courses available, no national qualification has previously existed.  The introduction of the new BSE sector qualification will help to address this over the next 12 months.  SummitSkills has developed a suite of 16 National Occupational Standard (NOS) Units for Environmental Technology systems that will be used to develop the qualification.  It will also provide standardisation, support the wider recognition of competence and benefit the employer/engineer by allowing transfer of credit.  SummitSkills has begun work mapping the existing courses to the NOS.  We are seeking the cooperation and support of manufacturers and certification bodies to promote recognition of the need for NOS based training. 

To gain approval from awarding bodies, training providers will need to have staff and facilities ready to deliver environmental technology training, or have a partnership arrangement in place with another provider.  Consequently, there is also an urgent need to build capacity within the training provider network to deliver the highest quality training.  SummitSkills, manufacturers, training providers and installation businesses all need to work together to achieve this.  For example, in addition to class-based courses, Train the Trainer initiatives could include workplace secondments to give trainers real experience of installing, testing, commissioning and servicing renewable technology systems. 

Pulling together and providing cross sector support is the way I believe BSE businesses can meet the renewables challenge head on.  By being proactive in their training, and preparing to take advantage of the opportunities ahead, the industry can help reduce the impact of technology on the environment, and secure the future productivity and success of the sector.

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