Retrain plumbers as ‘climate hero’ green heating engineers, says think-tank

14 02 2022 | 07:53Zoe Tidman

Recruitment drive should present profession as ‘chance to be a key player in reducing UK emissions and promoting climate action’, Social Market Foundation says

The UK needs to recruit and retrain many more “climate hero” plumbers to help wean the country off gas and support its drive to net-zero emissions, a think-tank has said.

The workforce needs to grow and reskill to deal with the challenge of replacing millions of gas boilers with green heat pumps, according to a new report by the Social Market Foundation (SMF).

The think-tank said there needed to be a recruitment campaign that pitched heating engineers - who are “vital in achieving net zero” - as Climate Heroes to ensure enough new plumbers were entering the profession at a crucial time.

The government should encourage new talent by showing a career in heat installation was “a chance to be a key player in reducing UK emissions and promoting climate action”, its report said.

Homes are estimated to account for around a fifth of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Experts say reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and improving their energy efficiency - for example, with better insulation - is key to tackling the climate crisis.

The Independent has reported criticism the government is not supporting homes to become green quickly enough given the scale of the problem.

The SMF think-tank said reducing the emissions from homes was “critical” to meeting the target of net-zero emissions by 2050 and would require physical modifications to millions of homes, including a switch from gas boilers to lower-carbon heat pumps.

As well as launching a recruitment drive for more heat pump installers, it suggested the government needed to take more action to encourage current workers to retrain to get the skills to install heat pumps - including through tax relief when training for new green skills.

“Low consumer demand is the biggest barrier for installers to retrain,” the report also said. “The current funding pot for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme is unlikely to stimulate consumer demand sufficiently to incentivise retraining and meet installation targets.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson said: “We have spent almost £6m in support of training for tradespeople delivering home retrofit improvements, providing just under 7,000 training opportunities, and are working closely with industry to ensure that high-quality heat pump training is available.”

They added: “We are investing almost £6.6bn to support people to install energy efficiency measures and have just announced funding to councils across England to upgrade 20,000 social homes. As well as slashing energy bills, this investment will support green job opportunities right across the country. All of this will support green jobs and investment across the country.”

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A think-tank has suggested a recruitment drive for ‘climate hero’ plumbers in a bid to bolster workforce for net-zero drive