Cathryn Hickey from the National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies, urges the building services engineering sector to keep the momentum going in regards to delivering and promoting greener and more energy efficient ways to heat and light Britain's buildings
No one can deny the slow start we've experienced over the last couple of years when it comes to trying to make Britain a more low carbon place. Delays to the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and Green Deal, plus reductions in the Feed-in-Tariffs (FiTs), have not been ideal and may have proved costly to businesses relying on these schemes.
When they have worked however, they've worked well - I'm sure any HVR readers involved in the commercial RHI can vouch for the increased revenues it's created.
Things are looking up; the domestic RHI looks set for introduction next spring and I sincerely hope that by the time this goes to print the Green Deal is starting to be delivered properly.
Other positive news includes plans by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to increase the threshold for community projects under FiTs -- photovoltaics on schools and libraries, plus community owned wind turbines, for example - providing direct gains for the commercial sector.
Regardless of the slow start, what is a certainty is that, one way or another, Britain has to embrace 'going green' in order to meet carbon reduction targets.
To do this, we need a suitably trained workforce, full of enthusiastic and knowledgeable individuals with the right skills to not only fit these technologies, but sell them on to end-users.
If you are experiencing a more drawn out move into sustainable building services than you envisaged, use this time to get your house in order.
This is the way the whole sector is moving and there will come a time when fossil fuels and inefficient measures are a distant memory.
Train at your own pace
It is not just the way we heat and light our buildings that is changing, training has also moved on, with opportunities to learn that suit the modern business.
Work in the classroom can now be supplemented with online modules, ideal for fitting in training around revenue generating activities.
The majority of the National Skills Academy's environmental technology courses are also available as e-learning programmes, with practical, and in some cases assessment, elements taking place in our approved centres.
This dramatically cuts down the time spent off site, providing a cost and time effective solution to up-skilling.
New e-learning modules have been launched to meet market demand, including a Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation (ECO) tool to help those involved; either installers, assessors or anyone interested in finding out how these schemes work and what they cover.
It is particularly useful for front-line staff tasked with selling or explaining the benefits to end users. In addition, e-learning is in itself a 'green' medium.
Beyond structured training, the key to success in any sector is continued learning.
New products, new schemes and new approaches to saving energy are constantly being introduced and the savvy engineer must be at the forefront of this wave - there's nothing worse than a customer telling you something about your industry that you didn't know!
The internet provides a valuable resource, with sites like ours - www.nsaet.org.uk - trade magazine websites and bodies such as the Energy Saving Trust, awash with useful and up to date information.
On the job resources, like our handy technical pocket guides, are ideal for a quick knowledge refresh.
Engage with your customers
The unfortunate delays in incentivising schemes may have left some customers despondent; the task of reigniting their interest falls largely in the hands of the installers, specifiers and the customer service representatives who have to help these end users make decisions about their buildings.
To this end, training does not finish with practical skill, it must also involve general knowledge improvement and then keeping this knowledge up to date.
Think beyond your frontline installers, who answers your phones? Who greets visitors to the building? Do they know about renewable technologies and energy efficiency?
While I'm not suggesting they need to be experts, a grounding in the basics is useful and may greatly assist in making a sale or helping a customer to feel like your company knows what it's talking about. Again, keeping abreast of information online is essential.
We provide an Environmental Awareness qualification that imparts background information for installers but is also useful for non-technical staff.
Help develop our sector
What the industry needs is young blood, with the enthusiasm to move things forward.
Renewable and energy efficient measures have the power to make building services engineering more appealing than it has ever been, with the next generation acutely aware of climate change.
Consider taking on apprentices to help your business grow while nurturing new green pioneers of the future.
Apprentices offer a number of benefits: they can be moulded to fit the values and ethos of your business, they present a cost-effective staffing option and, at the end of their training, they should be ready to slot seamlessly into an organisation, with an understanding from the bottom up of how your business operates.
All of the National Skills Academy's environmental technology training is available to apprentices studying towards a Level 3 qualification.
Promote your business
The National Skills Academy's remit is to help businesses take advantage of the opportunities presented by the low carbon economy and this does not just end with training. We also have a commitment to support those who have trained through our centres in finding work, while assisting end users in sourcing suitably qualified installers.
We've launched a free sales and marketing guide, relevant for small to medium enterprises (SMEs), and our Trained Installer Register www.nsaregister.org.uk
; an online database of National Skills Academy qualified trades' people, searchable by postcode.
At the moment, for those of you that also work in the domestic arena, it might still be a case of convincing customers to 'go green', however as the afore-mentioned schemes kick in, end users should be beating a path to your door.
How they find you is important - our sales and marketing guide assists SMEs in getting promotional activities in place, while the Register provides a trusted place for consumers to search for potential service providers.
It's an exciting time to be a building services engineer and we still need more suitably qualified people to fulfil the UK's legally binding carbon reduction targets.
Don't let negativity stop you from up-skilling yourself and your staff, if you're not reaping the renewable rewards yet, it's almost an inevitability that you soon will be.
The National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies delivers training through its network of approved centres, located nationwide. E-learning, supporting guides, plus the Trained Installer Register, is available to view on its website: www.nsaet.org.uk/shop