Blazing a trail for biomass apprentices

Some of the leading players in the UK's biomass industry have joined forces to develop a skills standard under the government's Apprenticeship Trailblazers programme.

The programme 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 programme will be led by Neil Harrison, founder and director of Northumberland-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 programme to start at 200 in the first year, growing by at least a further 100 annually until we have around 750 participants by 2020,' says Harrison.

He continues: 'It is important we ensure the quality of biomass boiler installations if the sector's potential is to be fully realised. 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.'

The sector's Apprenticeship Trailblazer programme will focus initially on the skills required to install a biomass boiler as demand for these low-carbon systems is rising rapidly. Harrison explains: 'The government's Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), 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 woodchip and wood pellets. The UK therefore has a burgeoning renewable heat sector and more than 90% of all RHI eligible schemes are biomass systems.'

Harrison and his 10 colleagues from across the sector will work with officials from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to develop the apprenticeship programme, 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 programme 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 programme covering a range of sectors including aerospace, construction, digital industries and law.

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