Careers in the building services industry
Join the sector that’s growing despite the shrinking economy
With many industries suffering under the weight of economic uncertainty, made worse by cuts, VAT increases and fuel price hikes, it may seem that changing career now is be a bad move. There is one sector however which, while it has felt the strain like everyone else, shows glimmers of hope with the potential to grow while most industries shrink.
The Building Services Engineering (BSE) sector, which encompasses plumbing, heating, electrical, ventilation and significantly, renewables, is a lead player in the fight against global warming. Responsible for updating Britain’s homes and workplaces to meet carbon reduction and energy efficiency standards, it is an industry we will all be forced to take notice of, whether we like it or not.
As the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels has to come to an end over the coming years, alternative technologies, such as solar thermal and ground source heat pumps are all installed by BSE engineers. With new government initiatives being implemented to make this equipment a viable solution for more people, the take-up of renewables is set to increase dramatically.
Mark Krull from Logic4training, which trains building services installers, explains why and how to get involved with this growth area.
“If you want to do something great for the environment and earn good money at the same time, then training to become a renewable technology installer could be a positive career move – especially now, when proposed government initiatives should see many more homes ‘going green’.
Last year Feed in Tariffs (FITs) were introduced, which basically offer cash-back for electricity generating renewables, such as solar photovoltaics. Once installed, qualifying owners get money for the electricity produced. If this is more than required by a particular building it can be sold back to the national grid, meaning ‘free’ energy and the potential to actually make money. This results in the cost of installation being paid back fairly quickly – in around eight years.
For 2011, the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) will be launched (hopefully around July time). This is a similar scheme to FITs, but focusing on heat-based renewables, including solar thermal hot water, ground and air source heat pumps.
There are a number of ways into the sector, with positions to suit a range of experience, plus educational opportunities from three-day courses, to full-time degrees.
For heating engineers, plumbers and electricians, who already have the recognised qualifications in their field, there are training courses designed to ‘up-skill’ installers to include alternative technologies in their offering. In order for end-users to take advantage of FITs and the RHI, the engineer they choose must be Micro-generation Certification Scheme (MCS) accredited. Recognised training is one of the contributing factors to achieving MCS, as well as relevant, on-site experience.
If this is a completely new venture for you, or you are a student just embarking on your career, then the ways to join the industry include:
Apprenticeships provide an opportunity to earn while you learn, with training delivered on-site, plus one day a week at college. You can start an apprenticeship from the age of 16 onwards, with adult apprenticeships now available for anyone looking to retrain.
Basic entry level requirements include five GCSES and candidates can either stick with an apprenticeship, leaving them with the skills and qualifications to become a tradesperson (such as a plumber, electrician or gas fitter) or carry on to an Advanced Apprenticeship. On completion of an Advanced Apprenticeship, successful individuals will be eligible for more senior roles such as a Project Manager.
For students currently deciding whether to go to University, an Advanced Apprenticeship could provide an alternative route – particularly for those interested in engineering based subjects. There are no fees to pay, no need for a student loan and you will earn around £95 a week. Many apprentices are offered jobs by the employer they’ve been placed with, so you may move seamlessly from student to full-time employee.
At the moment there’s only one renewables apprenticeship in the UK, at Carnegie College in Fife. However, towards the middle of this year more renewable based apprenticeships will start appearing. There are already new units being added to the plumbing apprenticeship, providing pathways for students looking to get into gas, renewables and solid fuels. This, in my opinion, is the right approach – green energy technologies should be additions to the skills of existing building services engineers, rather than completely new disciplines which require an alternative approach.
Information regarding apprenticeships has been taken from http://www.apprenticeships.org.uk/.
If gaining a degree is your ultimate goal, than there are a number of renewables based courses available. Qualifications include a BSc in renewable energy and a BSc in sustainable building design. This level of training will equip you for the most senior roles in the sector – you never know you might end-up helping to design the carbon busting technology that ultimately saves the world from the destruction of global warming!
For those of you already employed within a similar sector, then Approved Prior Learning (APL) courses, offer a way of becoming a building services installer for candidates with transferable skills.
Valid experience could include verifiable on-the-job training and/or pre-existing qualifications – for example, if you have trained already as a plumber, but want to move into gas fitting. If your’ current role is a million miles away from the building services sector, then consider getting some on-the-job experience so you can meet the APL criteria.
There are up-skilling courses available for most of the building services disciplines; these qualifications can then be used as a stepping-stone to a MCS approved course. Taking gas as an example, on successful completion of the course, candidates will have met the criteria to go on and take their Approved Certification Scheme (ACS) assessment – necessary to trade legally as a gas installer. Once ACS has been achieved you can then do any of the heating-based renewables courses – such as solar thermal hot water.
If you have a burning ambition to save the planet, or are simply looking for a more stable job environment, consider building services engineering, a sector on the up, despite many going down.”
Logic4training delivers MCS approved renewables training for solar thermal hot water, solar photovoltaics, ground and air source heat pump; new entrants training for gas and heating oil installers, plus a wide range of standard building services courses and assessments. For more information, visit www.logic4training.co.uk