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InstallerFUTURES: the skills challenge with Mark Krull

In the latest of our InstallerFUTURES interviews talking about the challenges of skills and training, we meet Mark Krull – Director or Logic4training and LCL Awards.

Mark Krull is director of two different leading building services trainers in the southeast: Logic4training has been going for 22 years, with LCL Awards this year celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Mark has had a long career in plumbing and heating, working in the industry for around 40 years. He has been a member of Greenpeace for the same length of time, and unsurprisingly is a big advocate of renewables: “I’m proud to say that LCL Awards has been developing renewables qualifications since 2006, including industry firsts in areas like battery storage, while Logic4training delivers heat pump, solar PV, battery storage and EV charging courses…It’s a fantastic industry with a wide range of opportunities that make a real contribution to Net Zero.”

Like a number of others in our series of interviews, Mark believes that engagement is a key challenge, and this applies to both new starters and to current installers: “The existing installers need convincing of the opportunities in the greener arm of building services. Historic failed schemes, negativity in the media and a general mistrust in the ‘powers that be’ have led to some being sceptical of investing time and money in upskilling. The reality is that fossil fuels are on their way out but not gone yet; gas engineers that can also install heat pumps, for example, will have plenty of work now and in the future. The trouble is that installers have been largely ignored by stakeholders higher up the food chain, with policies implemented that do little to help those at the coal face of renewable take-up.

For the younger people, there is still too much emphasis on academia being the ‘best’ route to a rewarding and lucrative career, he believes, and he thinks it is vital to do more in schools and colleges to present vocational learning as a valid alternative to university, rather than a ‘Plan B’.

“At the end of the day, apprentices earn money and students don’t,” he notes, “So with rising tuition fees and costs of living, a sector that pays well, contributes to the path to Net Zero and offers job roles at a variety of different levels, should be more appealing. Changing our education system is beyond our control, but there is more industry can do to improve the outcomes of vocational learners – we need to make sure any schemes that encourage renewables take-up are robust and well thought-out, and that we are consulting everyone involved, especially installers.”

Mark wants to see manufacturers providing more support for training providers, not just supplying product, but working in partnership to ensure installers get up-to-date information on the latest technologies. “This is surely a win, win for everyone involved…The more the different factions of our sector work together, the better. Helping installers become skilled and proficient is good for the reputation of manufacturers, training providers and the industry at large.”

Despite being a big fan of apprenticeships, Mark isn’t a fan of the new Low Carbon Apprenticeships: “We need multi-skilled installers, competent in maintaining all of the building services currently used in the UK. Gas is still the predominant heat source and boilers that have been recently installed will last for 20 years or more. The current apprenticeship landscape that makes potential apprentices choose between a traditional or low carbon route is the wrong option for all concerned. For the foreseeable future we will need new entrants to our industry that can work confidently and competently on gas and heat pump technologies; either separately, individually, or both.”

He also stresses that plumbing skills remain vital: “We need to remember that a well-designed and installed plumbing, heating and hot water system is the core of all heat-based building services, so apprentices must learn to be good plumbers first. The plumbing route must be kept as the core, with the option to choose a multi-technology pathway.”

This all needs to be underpinned by proper investment from the government, he adds: “We’ve stopped promoting the Heating Training Grant at Logic4training because the number of vouchers we have been allocated is so small that they’re gone within a matter of days – leaving many installers annoyed that they’ve missed the boat.”

But grounds for optimism come from the installer base: “The tide is turning on the naysayers now – the demand for Logic4training’s heat pump courses have been consistent for a while. The network of training centres is becoming more widespread and the standards of training higher, with more manufacturers supporting heat pump installers in particular. Technology is also advancing at a pace, and some of the pain points of heat pump specification and installation may soon be a thing of the past.”

He also sees good reason for embracing AI, not fearing it: “Unlike many industries, AI is a positive gamechanger for our sector, which will only serve to support installers: speeding up processes, improving accuracy and as a consequence, improving positive outcomes for the consumer.”

Where InstallerSHOW and InstallerFUTURES can help is to really get behind communicating the value of apprentices to employers of all sizes, Mark believes. “For small businesses in particular, the apprenticeship scheme offers a cost-effective employment option and at the moment, the Government is covering the total cost of training for SMEs, so it really is a no-brainer…We need to be promoting the benefits of a career in building services (including gas) from school level, showing pupils its fantastic opportunities, longevity, and money-making potential – we have seen learners in their 20s who have bought their own homes – not many new graduates can say that!”

The technology is moving on apace too, Mark adds, which gives him more grounds for optimism: “We should recognise that despite the challenges, the renewables arm of building services has grown exponentially in recent years, with solar PV now fairly mainstream and battery storage hot on its heels. Plus many more of us have electric vehicles and the tide is turning on negative heat pump rhetoric. New tech is coming that will further remove barriers and ‘if’ the price of electricity comes down to meet gas, then the electrification of heat becomes something that everyone can get on board with. It’s a really exciting time for our sector, which makes me hopeful for the future.”

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