How can you make sure you get work in the future?

Helen Yeulet, Skills policy lead for Actuate UK and Director of Training & Skills BESA Academy, takes a look at how heating and plumbing engineers can future-proof themselves and their businesses:

Have you left school and trained through an apprenticeship to be a qualified installer in building services? Or did you start out as a mate and train “on the job” and don’t have any formal qualifications but still manage to get work?

Everyone is talking about the current skills gap in the industry and the labour shortages are really evident on sites, leading to an increase in pay for self-employed and employed workers. So why worry about training or upskilling when you can clearly get work tomorrow? Is it just construction that is suffering this? No – we have an ageing population so all industries are fishing in the same pool for the same people, new entrants and career changers. BUT times are changing for construction and in a good way.

The focus on Net Zero and the need to decarbonise is across all news and social media; this is a huge opportunity for anyone working in Building services – after all, aren’t we the “heart and lungs” of every building? David Frise (BESA CEO) has urged employers to use net zero as an opportunity to rethink their recruitment strategies. Whilst the focus in the press is very much domestic probably to help educate all of us citizens on the importance of the change that is needed, commercial cannot be left behind especially when many high rise flats are treated as commercial properties in the built environment due to their complexity. Upskilling to understand these technologies is not going to be as simple as learning “on the job” – who do you learn from? Is it as simple as doing a short training course? Probably not.

In order to replace one set of technology with another you need to understand the old too. Becoming qualified in the role you do is a really important step towards ensuring you can benefit from the opportunities that realising the net zero targets presents. Once qualified it will open up the upskilling and retraining into all the new technologies available now (eg heat pumps, electric vehicle charging) and ready for those coming tomorrow (eg hydrogen).

This training is also costly so it means having to justify to you or your employer this investment in valuable costs and time. BUT how can you afford not to do this? With certification of competence in your role you can attract better more highly paid work for both yourself and your employer and you can move into other roles. Construction offers real career paths – it’s not a dead-end job, it is the chance to make a difference everyday to avert the impact of climate change. Not many industries can state that!

Undergoing training at any age helps you to become more productive and provide higher quality, which in turn helps you to win more work and increase your wages or profits. As an employer, with current and future recruitment issues, the need to increase a productive workforce makes business sense.

Firstly, an apprenticeship is open to anyone of any age and these are predominately funded through Apprenticeship Levy (a levy which companies already pay). There are also many experienced worker programmes, which enable you to be assessed onsite or alongside your day job and formalise the years you already have under your belt.

As an employer, join the BESA pledge campaign and we can help find you the right provision and even the apprentice. Actuate UK covers all areas of building services with its members offering a broad range of career options from electrical to plumbing to specialist lift engineers, each with an important role to play in securing our future and meeting the net zero targets.

Moreover, the Grenfell Tower disaster is the industry’s wake up call. The inquiry has heard repeated evidence of people being asked to undertake jobs without any training, never thinking that the consequence could be a loss of life. This is an opportunity for us all to take pride in ensuring we really know what we know, taking that course, doing that assessment and getting that certificate. No matter how long in a job, there’s always something new to learn.

Construction has been viewed as the last industry of choice and the poor relation of others for too long. We have the chance to prove that we have a highly skilled workforce, that is driving the change needed to protect the world from climate change and be proud of the spaces created where people spend 90% of their lives – buildings.

Help and advice available from Actuate UK members:

The BESA Academy; also BESA with SELECT and SNIPEF in Scotland developed Building Services Engineering Skills Ltd combining information, advice and support for training.

ECA provides information and training resources; watch National Apprenticeship Week 2022 webinar on: The future of apprenticeships in construction on the ECA YouTube channel.

FETA’s members offer various apprenticeship & training opportunities; check the Heat Pump Association & the Building Controls Industry Association.

LEIA provides information on careers in lifts and escalators

CIBSE has focused on apprentices and celebrates them with the Young Engineers Awards

BSRIA has information for careers and skilling up.