The heat pump installer gap

The UK Government has set an ambitious goal to install 600,000 thousand heat pumps by 2028. The Climate Change Committee has called for an even more rapid expansion of more than 1 million installations by 2030. The numbers and targets are very clear.

The ‘who’ question though remains elusive. Who will install these 600,000 or more heat pumps to decarbonise our homes?

There is a massive shortage of qualified heat pump engineers. Right now, the number of heat pump engineers is estimated to be around 3,000. According to our modelling, we will need at least 27,000 qualified engineers by 2028 to meet the government’s target. This is a roughly nine-fold increase in just six years. Should installer productivity remain constant, the number of installers required is likely to rise to 62,000 by 2035.

On average, this means training roughly 5,000 to 7,000 installers per year from 2025 to 2035 – more engineers every year than we currently have in total.

Where will the engineers come from?

The heat pump installation industry needs to attract new engineers from two main sources: experienced gas engineers and completely new entrants to the industry.

Experienced gas engineers can be trained quickly. Most of them need to attend a 3–5-day course which may be followed by some manufacturer training. Experienced gas engineers have many of the skills required for installation and are critical in the industry because of their experience and ability to provide support and training to new entrants.

New entrants, though, need to be trained from scratch. As there is currently no single, clear route to becoming a heat pump engineer, training usually entails qualifying first as a gas engineer or plumber through a 3–4-year college course or apprenticeship before undertaking the 3–5-day heat pump course.

Attracting experienced gas engineers and new entrants are different problems that require different solutions. Both are important and should be tackled as urgent priorities.

Why do experienced gas installers not want to install heat pumps?

In our research, published today, we illustrate the many barriers experienced by gas engineers wanting to retrain. At the most basic level, there is an acute lack of information about options and retraining pathways. We know there is also a lack of trust about government vision – the workforce has to believe that heat pumps are a key part of the future. Understandably, there is also individual uncertainty about career prospects following heat pump training given that it is a relatively immature market.

These obstacles are further aggravated by poor training opportunities and a lack of time. There is already a shortage of gas engineers and the existing workforce tends to be very busy. At the same time, the cost of training can range from a few hundred pounds to £2,000.

Gas engineers also lack strong incentives to retrain. Our research shows there is no wage premium associated with heat pump installation – a heat pump engineer earns roughly the same as those working on gas installation. Importantly, there is a perception that engineers will not find enough work in the heat pump market, all while demand for gas installation is very high.

Creating an experienced workforce to drive the UK to net zero

We need solutions that address the barriers that span skills, opportunity and motivation for people to train in heat pumps. It needs to be easier and more desirable for gas engineers to retrain. Trialling a cash incentive for such retraining, similar to a ‘golden hello’, is a promising solution.

"It needs to be easier and more desirable for gas engineers to retrain. Trialling a cash incentive for such retraining, similar to a ‘golden hello’, is a promising solution."

The pervasive lack of information could be treated by appointing a body to provide leadership and develop a clear action plan. By having oversight of the low-carbon heating industry it can act as a vital source of information and support for gas engineers.

The UK government needs to confirm and communicate its stance on heat pumps, hydrogen, and other low-carbon technologies and launch a national information campaign about heat pumps.

The policies above may not work independently. Multiple barriers must be attacked simultaneously if we are to create a skilled workforce that can decarbonise our homes and train the next generation of heat pump installers.

Author

Dimitris Sarsentis

Dimitris Sarsentis

Dimitris Sarsentis

Analyst, A Sustainable Future

Dimitris joined Nesta’s Sustainable Future Mission as an Analyst after graduating from his MSc.

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