Blazing a trail for biomass apprentices

By re:heat | March 13, 2015

Some of the leading players in the U.K.’s biomass industry have joined forces to develop a skills standard under the British government’s Apprenticeship Trailblazers program.

The program sees groups of employers pool their expertise to develop apprenticeship standards in their own sector with the aim of ensuring young people develop world class skills to take into industry.

The Biomass Installation Engineer program will be led by Neil Harrison, founder and director of North East England based firm, re:heat.  Neil is also vice chairman of the Wood Heat Association, the national trade body that represents almost 200 biomass businesses who collectively employ more than 3,500 people in the UK.

“The biomass industry is experiencing high growth across the country and we expect demand for this apprenticeship program to start at 200 in the first year, growing by at least a further 100 annually until we have around 750 participants by 2020,” said Neil.

“It is vitally important we ensure the quality of biomass boiler installations if the sector’s potential is to be fully realized. The instances of poorly and sometimes dangerously installed systems are on the rise and this poses a reputational risk which could permanently damage the sector if left unchecked. There is a very pressing need for a new approach to deliver the highest quality training provision to ensure all areas of the biomass supply chain have the right skills to protect the integrity of the sector.”

Commenting on the launch of the program, British government skills minister Nick Boles said,  “I am delighted that re:heat is to join more than 1,000 of the country’s leading employers in designing new top quality apprenticeships in renewable energy.

“Giving employers like re:heat the power to design apprenticeships means that apprentices graduate with the skills they need for the job they want and businesses get the talent they need to grow.”

The sector’s Apprenticeship Trailblazer program will focus initially on the skills required to install a biomass boiler as demand for these low-carbon systems is rising rapidly as Neil explained, “The government’s Renewable Heat Incentive, a globally unique payment scheme incentivising investment in renewable heat technologies, is creating significant and sustained growth in demand for domestic and non-domestic heating systems powered by renewable fuels such as wood chip and wood pellets.  The U.K. therefore has a burgeoning renewable heat sector and more than 90 percent of all RHI eligible schemes are biomass systems.”

Neil and his 10 colleagues from across the sector will work with officials from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to develop the apprenticeship program, standards and assessment approaches.

The other members of the employers group involved in the delivery of the Biomass Installation Engineer Apprenticeship Trailblazer are:  Teesdale Renewables, Oakes Energy, Dunster Biomass Heating, Purple Energy, Biomass Boiler Services, Prescient Power, High Park Industries, Ashwell Biomass, Nottinghamshire Eco Fuels and Employer First.  These organisations are geographically spread across England and together they employ almost 180 people.

If the Biomass Installation Engineer program proves successful the employers group intends to apply to the government to extend their remit across the fuel supply chain, logistics and storage.

Employer groups have already been set up under the Apprenticeship Trailblazer program covering a range of sectors including aerospace, construction, digital industries and law.