National Apprenticeship Week – The MCS Installer Focus Group discuss apprenticeships and Skills For Life
6th February 2023
Certified contractors and members of the MCS Installer Focus Group share their experiences working with apprentices, the benefits that skills for life have on businesses and learners alike, and why you should get opt for an apprenticeship in the home-grown energy and heating sector.
The MCS Installer Focus Group is a platform for contractors representing a broad range of the low carbon heating and energy sector. It enables our contractors to come together to offer insight into the opportunities and issues the industry faces and inform MCS decision-making.
Many members of the group employ apprentices to support their companies and work to nurture their skills. Everyone in the group recognises the importance and value that apprenticeships offer for creating dedicated pipelines of talent into the industry and developing sector-specific expertise to ensure quality installations across the UK.
In celebration of the impact that apprenticeships can have, the members of the Installer Working Group are joining MCS to mark this year’s National Apprenticeship Week, celebrated 6 – 12 February 2023.
For the entire week, employers, students, careers advisers, and colleges are working together to champion apprenticeships while top organisations will be actively seeking apprentices and showcasing their career opportunities.
The theme for 2023 is ‘Skills For Life’, dedicated to how apprentices may develop the knowledge and skills needed for a lifelong, rewarding career. The aim of National Apprenticeship Week 2023 is for business to develop a talented workforce equipped with future-ready expertise.
Recently, we had the opportunity to catch up with the Installer Focus Group and discuss with the members how their companies are supported by apprentices. They told us about how they are assisting trainees to learn while on the job and growing dedicated skillsets among their employees which will help both the individual and the business to grow.
Contractors and apprentices working side-by-side
Andy and Sharon Louth started Groundtherm more than 15 years ago and have operated as a family business since then. Based in Cheshire, Groundtherm offers a variety of renewable home heating solutions, including air source and ground source heat pumps. Since its foundation, they have installed hundreds of heat pumps across Great Britain.
The team is now six-strong and that includes an apprentice who carries out heating and plumbing work for renewable installations, gaining valuable experience alongside other trained and qualified heat pump engineers.
Anthony Lloyd is the training and compliance manager at Thermal Earth, founded in 2006 to offer bespoke renewable heating systems for UK homes. With more than 15 years’ experience in designing and installing home heating, they offer solutions for all types of home across the country, from their base in Carmarthenshire in Wales.
As the lead for Thermal Earth’s employee training and development, Anthony proudly told us that the company’s 38-strong workforce includes two plumbing and heating apprentices and one electrical apprentice. Training employees on-the-job allows them to develop specialised skillsets in one trade or another and the business to diversify its workforce with knowledgeable professionals.
Dan Large founded Solaris Energy back in 2017, centring the business around designing and installing heat pumps for UK homes. With a focus on quality workmanship and customer relations and a passionate commitment to decarbonising home heating, Solaris provide comfortable, efficient low carbon heating and provide ongoing care for the entire system life.
In the last five years, Solaris has grown to a staff of 14, one of them being an apprentice. Their apprentice supports the team on installing heat pumps, gaining a genuine appreciation for the importance of the low carbon heating industry and decarbonising UK home heating, while gaining valuable lifelong skills.
Keith Hill began Fervo Renewable Energy in 2014 with several years’ experience in the home-grown energy sector. Having worked in renewable energy previously, he and his partner Alison started the business with a vision of decarbonising homes through renewable energy and heating solutions. Fervo provides tailored design and installation recommendations based on consumers’ individual needs before beginning work and appreciates every home is different.
While Fervo currently has two employees, Keith and Alison are looking to expand in future and are considering employ apprentices to develop the talent needed to support their growing business. Keith firmly believes that apprenticeships are the most effective way to learn a trade with hands-on experience and live results rather than relying on classroom
Leah Robson started Your Energy Your Way back in 2018 alongside a team with years of renewable energy, plumbing, electrical and roofing expertise. Since then, they have installed renewable heating and energy systems of all types in homes across the South East. From their base in Surrey, they always work to create smart whole-house solutions. They also championing renewable solutions by raising awareness of environmental impacts and methods to reduce your carbon footprint.
With this passion for low carbon heating and home-grown energy, Your Energy Your Way is committed to training and supporting apprentices in the industry and helping them gain valuable future-fit skills in renewable energy. They have a particular commitment to providing and promoting opportunities for other women working in the industry. Of the current team of nine, two are apprentices developing a specialised skillset by working in the field alongside talented installers and role models.
Paul Leedham formed Matrix Energy Systems in 2009 and, almost 15 years on, they are still installing quality renewable heating and energy systems throughout the UK and abroad. From heat pumps and biomass boilers to solar PV and solar heating, Matrix installs test, commissions and maintains all of their installations to the highest standards.
The team at Matrix is now nine members, including two apprentices who support Paul and the team across all types of installation. Matrix and their apprentices alike have seen the benefits of learning specific skills while working and creating a dedicated career path for yourself.
The power of ‘Skills For Life’
What does this year’s theme ‘Skills For Life’ mean to you as a renewable energy installer?
(Leah Robson): An apprenticeship is the perfect way to begin ongoing training throughout your life, rather than just a one-off college course. Skills For Life mean that you can develop in your job or train for new careers at any point in your life.
(Andy Louth): Right now, apprenticeships are providing a secure future for installers. The skills apprentices learn on the job can set them up for a rewarding, lifelong carer.
(Paul Leedham): The skills that you can pick up from an apprenticeship underpin and support lifelong learning towards career progression within the renewables industry.
Why should people choose a career in renewables?
(Dan Large): The renewable heating and energy industry is a secure and growing industry with plenty of future-proof career opportunities for the people looking for them.
(LR): The renewables sector provides challenging and rewarding careers for people, while helping you to have a meaningful, positive impact on the world.
(Anthony Lloyd): Our industry is one with great, defined pathways for people looking to start their career, or start over with a new one.
What is the benefit of an apprenticeship over other training routes?
(ALo): Hiring apprentices will ensure that we are funnelling the next generation of installers into the industry from an early point. We can build genuine interest in passion in the sector among our apprentices as well as the dedicated skillset needed.
(DL): For anyone looking to learn a trade and build themselves a career, an apprenticeship can provide a solid foundation to maximise your own potential.
(PL): Apprenticeships are the best way to learn occupation-specific skills. They are delivered throughout your training in a blended pattern to cover academic and vocational skills, meaning there is something to suit all learning styles.
What advice would you give to young people or otherwise considering an apprenticeship?
(Keith Hill): An apprenticeship provides the best grounding to any career. Learning in the field rather than the classroom gives live results so you can really feel yourself grow and gain the satisfaction of a rewarding job well done.
(ALl): You should consider the entire career pathway when looking to start a new career. The renewables sector offers long-term careers and an apprenticeship can help you create your own path. Think what area of the industry you would be best suited to before starting out.
(LR): Make sure you are choosing an employer who loves training people. The opportunities are out there for you and skills development is a lifelong commitment. Work with someone who feels the same way.
How can we bridge the skills gap in the renewables sector?
(PL): We can bridge the skills gap by creating dedicated training centres that offer high quality teaching and provide up-to-date, relevant industry experience to share with learners. These centres need to be delivering opportunities to existing tradespeople to transition into renewables as well as new workforce entrants through apprenticeships.
(DL): We need to work to develop standard core training modules across the industry which ensure competency among everyone working in the sector. We should all be held to the same standards no matter what point of our career we are at.
(ALl): Dedicated short courses for traditional plumbers and electricians looking to upskill and retrain into the home-grown energy industry. I’d also like to see dedicated modules on fault finding and what to do when something goes wrong to ensure competency. This could all be done through dedicated apprenticeship routes – such as the upcoming MCS Low Carbon Heating Technician Apprenticeship.