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Installers of tomorrow learn skills today

Regardless of whether installers and contractors are completing their five-year assessment to maintain existing accreditation or looking to add new skills in order to get involved with new areas of HVAC supply, they will need the services of their local training provider.

Many smaller companies find it difficult to commit to either the expense or the time required to gain new skills. However, those that continue to ignore new technology will increasingly find themselves losing out to others that have embraced it.

With the government’s focus on reducing carbon output, further supported by the Renewable Heat Incentive and feed-in tariffs, opportunities look set to increase in 2011.

For those companies and individuals who find it difficult to take time away from their day job, Piper Assessment has developed a strategy to make this easier to bear.

Early education

The company has managed to considerably reduce the time that candidates need to spend at its premises by providing information in advance, allowing them to absorb facts and figures that would otherwise need to be gained in the classroom.

“When we first started, just over 10 years ago, a lot of gas ACS core training and assessment activities would be five days,” says Piper Assessment chief executive Steve Wright.

“We reduced that to three. The same ‘thinking outside the box’ concept is applied to the range of products offered.

“Within any company, the engineers will all be operating at different levels, because everyone’s an individual and will be better or worse at something than the next person.

“But if you can get the guys to take the time and make the effort to read the manuals in advance, it saves a lot of time.”

Piper Assessment also analysed the practical requirements of training courses and found that such reductions were also possible for most individuals in this area.

Those requiring additional practical tuition can easily be accommodated, says Mr Wright, but engineers with the necessary skills and experience can cover up to five different appliances in one day.

The company operates a number of assessment areas containing the necessary equipment for candidates to be observed by its team of assessors.

There is a wide selection of boilers, cookers and water heating equipment on site, with other technologies such as LPG also included. “We tried to recreate the real world where possible but this is sometimes impractical, such as where the commissioning of large pipework is concerned,” says Mr Wright.

The company has obviously not been able to recreate the miles of piping that are typically included in many structures.

But the testing procedure is largely mathematically and theory-based, so there is little need for more than a small amount of pipework on the premises, says Mr Wright.

The majority of customer requirements continue to focus on the gas side of the HVAC sector. The provision of domestic gas assessment and training continues to be the most dominant, while the commercial side is the second-highest priority.

Piper Assessment also offers similar options for oil appliances, in line with the relevant OFTEC standards. There are also facilities available for those seeking LPG qualification, and the assessment enables any natural gas domestic or commercial qualifications held to become dual fuel.

Renewed concern

Having recently celebrated its first decade in business, the company - which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the HVCA - can be described as an organisation that is established and thus able to look to the future.

There is one forward-looking aspect of its operations that is providing particular cause for concern across the industry in general.
This is the slow take-up of training courses for renewable energy technology. With the Renewable Heat Incentive due to begin in June, there is now a real possibility that a lack of expertise will prevent many installers from making the most of new business opportunities.

In order to offer a comprehensive renewable energy educational programme, Piper Assessment has formed a strategic alliance with plumbing and heating merchant PTS to deliver training in all areas of emerging HVAC technology.

The retailer created a renewable energy centre in its nearby Aylesford branch two years ago, where installers can see both working and theoretical examples. A display area (pictured above-right) features nine separate pods, each of which focuses on a different type of renewable energy.

A training area has also been created in the storage area at the rear of the store. The equipment has been attached to rigs, so that the appropriate technology can be wheeled into place as required for practical assessment.

PTS also has working examples of heat pumps, underfloor heating, photovoltaic and solar thermal installed on the premises, which are used for training purposes.

The company is looking to drive demand for renewable technology, with a view to increasing the options provided in-house when sufficient growth makes this a justifiable option.

The retailer’s renewable energy branch is also used for product-related events. The wide selection of goods available within the company’s retail operation provides it with a comprehensive range of items to show customers wishing to know more about renewable energy.

Teaching the future

In addition to its arrangement with Piper Assessment, PTS Aylesford has also formed an alliance with MidKent College for those taking part in its plumbing course. Students completing the L3 Domestic Plumbing course are now required to complete two additional units on solar power and energy efficiency.

The merchant now supports the college by opening up its auditorium and talking pupils through the educational displays and working models on show at its Renewable Energy Branch.

The all-important qualification for installers seeking to get involved in renewable energy HVAC systems is MCS certification, and Piper Assessment currently offers three courses to this end.

These include instruction on the installation of heat pumps, solar thermal and photovoltaic. Once the required level of expertise has been achieved, the installer is then able to apply for MCS accreditation.

Following its gradual expansion and consistent growth of its customer base over its first 10 years in business, Piper Assessment now feels it is in an ideal position to build on its solid foundations, says Mr Wright.

With a firmly established team of highly experienced personnel, the company feels it is well prepared to meet the challenges of the future.