Fostering skills transfer and training

Aira’s UK chief executive Daniel Särefjord believes transferring the skills of boiler installers will be a catalyst for sustainable growth.

The UK still relies on 25 million fossil fuel boilers to heat homes, and these currently account for 16% of the nation’s CO2 emissions. Despite there being significantly more sustainable solutions available to consumers – such as air source heat pumps, which can lower carbon emissions by 75% whilst also reducing heating costs = there are still millions of us relying on outdated, inefficient gas and oil boilers.

The good news is that the tide is set to turn. The UK Government is currently looking to update the rules on permitted development to make it easier than ever before for people in the UK to install a heat pump in their homes.

These proposed policy changes suggest a reconsideration of the one metre distance limitation between heat pumps and property boundaries and the removal or increase of the 0.6 cu m size limit.

If this change in regulation is approved, we will see a massive increase in the number of homes that are able to install a heat pump. The removal of this red tape will therefore liberate millions of families to move away from dirty gas and oil boilers in favour of a cleaner and more affordable central heating system.

Naturally, as the demand for heat pumps grows, we will see a rising need for trained experts and yet, according to The International Energy Association, only one in eight workers globally currently have the green skills needed to drive the green transition. Thankfully, companies like Aira are here to help.

Clean-energy companies across the nation are working to provide opportunities to advance their workforces, whilst keeping up with the pace of change, and Aira is leading the charge to drive a green skills revolution with its Aira Academies. Our ambition is to hire 8,000 clean energy roles over the next decade to keep up with surging demand, and to meet our goal of helping one million UK households switch to clean energy-tech over the ten-year period.

There’s no doubt that there is a crucial need to encourage skills transfer and to train, or re-train, technicians in greener skills to equip the nation with both a more sustainable approach to residential heating, and a skilled workforce, capable of progressing the transition away from dirty gas.

The IEA revealed that more than 67 million people were employed in the energy sector in 2022, an increase of 3.4 million from 2019,  (The 2023 data is pending) but if we’re going to keep pace with demand and make the green transition a reality, we need more programmes that deliver the expertise required.

Making the shift from fossil fuel boilers

The demand for skilled professionals capable of installing, maintaining, and optimising heat pump systems is likely to continue to rise significantly over the coming years, and companies like Aira are looking to stay ahead of the curve. For a technician looking to make the shift from fossil fuel boilers to air source heat pumps, the journey is straightforward: at Aira’s Academies, technicians who are new to heat pumps will be educated on everything they need to know to ensure that they can survey, specify, and install an efficient and reliable heat pump system.

System Designers will be responsible for calculating pipe sizes and configuration, as well as accurate property heat loss and radiator sizing. This will then be effectively communicated to Aira’s Clean Energy Technicians who will then be able to install the system, knowing it is going to work as designed.

Fortunately, the process of reskilling doesn’t have to be as daunting as it may sound, particularly for those who already have expertise with traditional heating solutions. Professionals in these fields possess valuable insights and hands-on experience that can be leveraged to enhance the overall competency of the green workforce.

Traditional heating systems, for example, often rely heavily on mechanical and electrical components and therefore, 90% of roles in the energy sector are transferable. It is crucial for the energy sector to actively support opportunities for skills transitions and the influx of new talent into the industry.

Over 100,000 people in the UK know how to fit gas boilers – and they can transfer all their plumbing and heating system knowledge and skills as well as electrical installation skills to heat pumps, only requiring limited additional training and practical support to become fully operational heat pump installers. By building upon this foundation, companies can help to expedite the learning curve for transitioning these professionals. And here, the team at Aira are looking to help play their part.

As well as helping to drive adoption by offering an end-to-end solution with a low monthly payment model that eliminates high upfront costs, we are continuing to establish Aira Academies across the UK to train the next generation of clean energy technicians. Here they will be trained to receive a Level 3 in heat pump installation, a G3 unvented hot water and water regulation training.

By investing in the development of a skilled and adaptable workforce, we believe the heating industry can navigate the transition towards cleaner and more sustainable practices, ultimately closing that green skills gap and contributing to a greener and more efficient future.

There’s no doubt, the transition to a greener workforce can’t be done overnight, and it certainly can’t be done alone. But by tapping into existing skill sets, stripping back the permitted development regulations that add red tape to heat pump installation and making training more accessible, the hope of being able to take the UK off gas for good is one step closer to becoming a reality.