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The Skills Challenge: Paul Collins, Technical Director, NICEIC

Paul Collins, NICEIC’s Technical Director, brings a wealth of hands-on experience to his role. His career began in 1990 as an electrical apprentice, and he continued to work “on the tools” for the following 15 years. During this time he expanded his expertise, he gained qualifications in gas, plumbing, heating, and renewables. Since joining NICEIC in 2009, he has progressed through various roles, including leading the technical helpline. He currently serves as the Technical Director, a position he assumed in 2023.Paul says: “I am driven by a commitment to driving and upholding standards, with a core focus of supporting the industry and NICEIC-certified businesses ‘to deliver exceptional work that meets all necessary design, installation, testing, inspection, and maintenance requirements.’

Like many in the sector, he identifies some key challenges at the moment for the building services sector. These include:

  • A Skills Gap: A shortage of apprenticeships hinders the development of a qualified and competent workforce.
  • Workforce Readiness: Upskilling the existing workforce in technologies such as heat pumps is essential for reducing reliance on fossil fuels (i.e. gas boilers).
  • Government Commitment: Stable and sustained government policy is crucial for achieving Net Zero aspirations.

Paul emphasises the critical need for a multi-faceted approach to ensure a successful transition to a low-carbon future. This requires attracting a robust pipeline of new talent alongside the upskilling of the existing workforce.

“Clearer policies and increased government investment in well-defined apprenticeship programmes are essential to build a future generation of skilled workers. However, early awareness and intervention among students is equally important. Integrating skilled trades prominently into school career guidance programmes can promote long-term interest in these fields.”

“For those seeking a career change, well-defined transition programmes with rigorous training are necessary. We must ensure those taking this route achieve full technical competency – on a par with those who complete traditional apprenticeships. By implementing these combined efforts, we can ensure a future-proof workforce equipped to address the challenges and opportunities presented by a low-carbon future.”

NICEIC has set out to tackle the transition to a low-carbon future with a range of initiatives to support certified businesses, he says: “For instance, we offer training and assessment for gas engineers who wish to upskill in heat pump technology. Meanwhile, our Connections Magazine explores the alternatives to fossil fuel appliances, and we feature real-life case studies to help promote the adoption of heat pumps and similar solutions.”

At the same time NICEIC is actively involved in the low carbon debate, by attending industry forums dedicated to raising the profile of low-carbon technology in the recognise that the electrification of heat is crucial to achieving Net Zero targets.

However, Paul notes that the biggest challenge lies in influencing consumer mindsets: “There needs to be a significant shift towards understanding and embracing low-carbon technologies like heat pumps. We must also promote greater awareness of how solar PV and energy storage can help reduce energy bills.”

This has meant encouraging NICEIC-certified businesses to look at the opportunities created here and to get involved in low carbon technology work, he adds.

Like others on the InstallerFUTURES advisory board, Paul finds good grounds for optimism: “There is a lot of good work going on out there,” he says, “It is great to see a year-on-year increase in the number of engineers upskilling in the heat pump sector – as well as more installations of Solar PV and energy storage systems being installed – so we are heading in the right direction – but we cannot take our foot off the gas, no pun intended!”

But, he stresses, we need to get to grips with the message for consumers, if we are going to achieve a transition to electrification: “Consumer demand is crucial – when consumers understand and request these solutions, the trades will naturally follow. I’m confident this shift will accelerate and become the norm, though mainstream adoption may take a few years…With the help of initiatives like InstallerFUTURES, we need to continue to raise awareness and promote what the future looks like without fossil fuels – both in terms of the benefits for our health and the planet as well as the financial opportunity for businesses. And we need to keep focusing on training to ensure that a competent and qualified workforce is able to deliver the future.”

Paul ends with a call to action for everyone working within the sector: “Change is happening. Staying ahead of the curve will benefit both you and your business. The future is in the electrification of heat. Get on board, acquire the right skills, and never compromise on competence.”

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