The UK’s heating industry faces a dual challenge – an ageing workforce coupled with the need for installers to be trained in low carbon technologies. 

In response, we need to provide enticing reasons to work in the heating sector, while remembering the range of motives people have when choosing a job. 

The more widely we communicate these reasons, the greater success we will have in building a workforce that understands its customers and the changes we need to decarbonise our energy system. 

Tap into talent 

Government statistics point to the heating sector being dominated by white men (accounting for 95% of the workforce according to a report by what was then BEIS, from January 2023). Women, people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and other members of minority groups, are an almost untapped talent pool – meaning there is potential to rapidly train and expand the workforce in the heating sector.  

To tap into this skills reserve, we need to understand and offer career opportunities that appeal to a wider range of values, and provide flexibility, funding, and training to those who want to pursue those careers. This means moving away from the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Each step within the career path could be improved to encourage a more diverse workforce to enter and stay within the industry.

Doing work that matters

People want careers that align with their values and motivations (and are financially rewarding). 

If people are doing work that they feel matters and if they are recognised for contributions towards things that are important to them, they are more likely to stay in the sector, and advocate for the opportunities and benefits on offer. Whether those values relate to the ‘green’ agenda, improving customers’ homes, or something else entirely, it is critical to understand and reflect the values held by potential new workforce entrants.

New opportunities

We should consider what can prompt an individual to enter the heating industry. Training experiences can then be adapted to suit different people, their circumstances, and their professional development approaches. This could help attract a more diverse workforce.

Training providers and those who offer apprenticeships need to open the sector and its opportunities up to trainees who want to make a career change. They could create new direct pathways to enable career movers to become a low carbon heating installer. As a sector, creative steps, such as introducing a modular training approach, could be considered to ease the transition for career movers. 

Funding and flexibility

Prohibitive training costs and a lack of access act as a barrier to entry. To drive installer demand for alternative training courses, funding needs to be better advertised and training courses need to be more affordable.

Training opportunities are often located at an association’s or manufacturer’s training facility, meaning individuals must travel, sometimes for hours. The duration of such courses often offers little flexibility, making it difficult to balance them with work and other responsibilities.

But that rigidity is not limited to training. Working patterns could also do with being more open. To remedy this, the sector should make more content available online and create flexible working models, such as shift patterns, compressed hours, and/or working every other week. Innovative solutions are required if we are to collectively play our part in attracting new talent.

Safe work environments

Some members of minority groups working in the heating industry experience bullying, often under the guise of ‘banter’.This can make them feel unsafe, undervalued, and excluded. 

Ensuring individuals feel safe in their jobs, and can train and work in healthy and inclusive environments will improve retention of skills within the sector. This will also help create a passionate, fulfilled workforce that continues to attract future talent.

As well as providing culturally and socially inclusive environments, employers and training bodies alike need to nurture physically inclusive environments, by providing faith rooms, female-only changing rooms, or adapted work equipment, for example. Until this happens, ‘banter’-driven barriers will shut out a major proportion of the potential workforce, as well as fail to fully recognise and support the well-being of its existing workforce.

Real change is needed

Wages and career pathways should reflect the fact that these are highly skilled professions that are critical to the UK meeting its net-zero targets. By changing public perception and providing a more inclusive training and working environment, we can create intra-generational social mobility, reach untapped talent pools, and broaden the diversity of thinking within the sector.