AI provides growth opportunities for the skilled trades

Mark Krull from Logic4training examines the likely impact of artificial intelligence on the skilled trades, explaining why installers should embrace, rather than fear, advancements in technology.

According to recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) analysis, 40% of employment around the world will be affected by AI, rising to 60% in higher-income countries. There is no doubt that the rise of AI will have a significant impact on the global labour market, potentially reshaping it entirely, but we don’t need to be quaking in our boots just yet.

Yes, AI will replace some jobs. Amazon is an early adopter of AI, utilising 750,000 industrial robots designed to work collaboratively with employees to speed up delivery and undertake repetitive or risky tasks. The company is now testing ‘Digit’, a human-like model that is capable of stocking merchandise 75% faster than its human counterparts.

IMF managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, says while the technological revolution holds the potential to deepen inequality if the right policies are not put in place, it could also “jumpstart productivity, boost global growth and raise incomes around the world.”  Some sectors will be complemented by the integration of AI and the transition should be embraced, rather than feared.

Building services engineering is one industry that will be positively influenced by advancements in technology, rather than removing the need for plumbers, heating engineers and electricians. While AI can perform factory tasks with precision, it lacks the dexterity involved with installing a heating system.

Tradespeople need the ability to problem-solve in complex situations, to think on their feet and adapt quickly to unforeseen problems. This level of unpredictability means that human presence will always be required.

Embrace new technology

The heating industry is undergoing a transformation as we switch from fossil fuel-based heating systems to low-carbon alternatives. Innovative AI technologies have a key role to play in providing new solutions to unprecedented challenges.

Installers are also adapting to this change, becoming multi-skilled to meet increasing demand for air source heat pumps, solar PV and domestic battery storage, and an increased focus on energy efficiency. It’s critical that installers continue to develop their skills and knowledge as new technologies and markets emerge, upskilling to incorporate low-temperature heating and hot water, for example, or to comply with changes to Building Regulations like Part L.

As installers take on new skills, interactive and intuitive tools can help to streamline time-intensive processes such as room surveying and heat loss calculations. A new app, heatly, which is currently being trialled, utilises technologies such as 2D/3D modelling and AR/VR to turn a smart-phone into a one-stop shop for heat pump installation, design and commissioning. This should iron out some of the discrepancies that are eroding trust in heat pumps – heat loss calculations can vary wildly, so simplifying and standardising the process should help to build consumer and installer confidence.

Optimise performance

The ability to exploit vast amounts of data – far beyond what a human could ever achieve – holds great potential for reducing energy usage and optimising efficiency. On a national level, AI provides real-time insight for better grid management, so more renewables can be incorporated into the energy mix while ensuring a reliable and consistent supply.

Machine learning can also be used to improve energy efficiency in homes and buildings, lowering costs for domestic residents. By analysing data collected by sensors, smart meters and appliances, AI systems can learn occupant habits and predict weather patterns, automating usage in accordance with grid fluctuations and optimising performance. This is particularly useful for low-temperature heating systems where the margin for error is smaller.

Skills shortage solutions

Immunity from the insidious rise of AI could hold other benefits for the building services engineering sector, an industry in which a long-term skills shortage severely threatens our ability to achieve decarbonisation.

A survey by Kingfisher at the end of last year showed that the trades is being largely ignored by young people as a career choice. 49% of 16–25-year-olds stated they have never considered a career in the trades, with only 13% encouraged by school to look at trade roles. The AI-beating benefits of becoming a building services installer is something that our sector needs to highlight, making it attractive to the next generation and filling the workforce gaps created by buoyant demand for low carbon heat and power. Apprenticships are key, and careers advisors need to be doing more to promote vocational, future-proof options to school and college leavers.

We are launching our own gas and smart metering apprenticeships this summer and are currently looking for employers interested in taking on an apprentice. Delivered from our Northolt and Luton centres, any interested businesses in the local areas can register their interest, here.

Gaps can also be filled by older learners, career changers who may increasingly come from job roles more negatively affected by AI. For this group, Managed Learning Programmes provide intensive training that covers all the necessary qualifications and experience to become a Gas Safe registered installer – the perfect starting point for anyone looking to move into heat pumps.

Powering up the workforce

40% of jobs will be affected by AI, but fortunately, our industry is on the other side of the coin, offering a fantastic opportunity for workers to earn a good salary with great prospects and lifelong skills.

Embrace AI as a tool and use it for what it’s good for – improving accuracy, providing deeper insight and streamlining delivery of projects. By liberating human workers of time-consuming tasks, businesses can optimise employee skills, boost productivity and deliver enhanced customer service.

Logic4training is the South East’s leading provider of building services training, with options for existing installers, career changes and college leavers – Logic4training will be launching its own apprenticeship programme this summer.