This is not just a sustainability challenge; this is a skills challenge, says Iain Macdonald, Head of Education and Training at the ECA
It is no secret the UK faces a huge challenge if it is to meet current carbon reduction commitments, which require an 80% reduction in our carbon emissions by 2050.
Drastic energy savings will need to be made to meet this challenge, and it is our built environment, which accounts for nearly half of the UK’s carbon emissions, that offers the best route to achieve this. If we are serious about meeting these targets, every home, office, and commercial and industrial space in the UK needs to become energy efficient.
If done correctly, this challenge can be turned into an opportunity.
The role of the electrical industry
Electricity is the lifeblood of every building, and the majority of sustainable technologies, such as energy efficient lighting, controls, sensors, and photovoltaics are powered by electricity. This means electricians have a vital role to play advising and installing the energy efficiency technologies which will be key to achieving carbon reduction targets.
Although current operatives may need to update their skills to gain specialist expertise, none of this calls for a new breed of ‘green’ installer. Fully trained electricians already possess the core skills to act as the frontline troops in the fight to cut carbon emissions.
However, meeting this challenge will require significant numbers of operatives. In the domestic market alone, 2,000 homes per day will need to be refurbished, which will create significant demand for people to carry out this work - something which has the potential to secure a new and ongoing market.
Skills challenges to the industry and UK plc
The UK must be in a position to respond to this demand, and obstacles to training the workforce, in particular, employer engagement must be overcome.
Apprenticeships are the traditional and best entry route to a vocational career in our industry. Historically, electricity boards were the main employers of apprentices, but since privatisation, this is no longer the case, and the onus has increasingly fallen on the SME.
The current recession also means companies don’t always prioritise training. Despite the best efforts of electrical contractors, the number of apprentices continues to fall.
With a lack of new entrants coming into the industry and the average age of a qualified electrician in the UK being 45, we could soon face a skills crisis where we will not have the skilled workforce to cope with demand.
If this skills challenge is to be addressed, a business culture that encourages companies to train must be created. Thousands of new apprenticeship places will have no value if employers are not in a position to take advantage of them.
The ECA believes efforts should be directed towards achieving industry-recognised outcomes, which lead to jobs and employability. We must work together with government to ensure the investment we make in skills is appropriate and develops a sustainable skills base for our young people and our industry.
If we achieve this, we will win the public’s confidence in ‘green’ solutions. It is imperative clients have confidence the right solution for their circumstances has been recommended and fitted, as well as confidence that energy-saving measures and renewable technologies are fitted safely and correctly the first time round.
There already seems to be recognition of this amongst electrical contractors, and at ECA we have seen real appetite for micro-generation courses and the Micro-generation Certification Scheme (MCS).
To help members better understand this market, the ECA has taken to the road with a Green Opportunities Roadshow featuring seminars and a specially fitted truck kitted out with renewable and energy-efficient technologies. The roadshow truck and seminars will help electrical professionals gain an in-depth understanding of renewable and energy-efficient technologies, as well as the business opportunities afforded to them by the government’s low carbon agenda. For more information on the ECA roadshow visit: www.eca.co.uk/roadshow.
A sustainable future
The sustainability agenda presents a challenge, but significant opportunities can also be found. We must view this agenda as an ongoing project, as we do the maintenance of the Forth Bridge. Following initial installation, technologies will need to be maintained or replaced several times between now and 2050 creating a flourishing business environment for those involved in this market.
To create a sustainable environment, we must create a sustainable workforce by setting a path that prioritises the acquisition of skills at the right level, and in sufficient numbers. Only then can we look to the future and meet the challenge of the sustainability agenda.