Boost in solar installation requires up to 500 additional qualified electricians per year, research finds

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  Posted by: electime      12th December 2023

Latest research into solar PV workforce requirements concludes that up to 500 newly qualified electricians per year might be needed to support Government plans for 70GW of solar capacity by 2035.

With the UK standing at a current solar capacity of around 15GW, the research was commissioned by The Electrotechnical Skills Partnership (TESP) and funded by NET to explore the electrotechnical industry’s capability to help fulfil this growth and the projected resource needed. Research experts Pye Tait carried out wide-ranging investigations, interviews with electrical contractors and in-depth analysis to arrive at the findings, which included looking at how long the average solar PV installation takes and the level of maintenance required.

It’s estimated that from now until 2035, a total workforce of between 6,110 and 6,890 full-time equivalent (FTE) qualified electricians will be required to support increased solar installations. This represents 4,800 to 5,600 more than the current FTE requirement for solar PV, or an extra 438 to 509 FTE electricians qualifying each year.

Although challenging, the electrotechnical industry has a good starting point from which to resource this need. The report estimates the UK’s current population of electricians and electrical fitters at 210,000 (excluding apprentices). Last year saw around 4,000 apprentices becoming qualified electricians, whilst apprentice start figures across the UK have been significantly higher than average in both of the last two years. In their report, Pye Tait also acknowledged that ongoing improvements to solar PV technology could result in fewer PV units being needed, and therefore a reduction in the number of electricians required.

Incorporation of solar PV knowledge and skills into electrical apprenticeship standards means that new apprentices are now becoming exposed to these and other low carbon technologies at a much earlier stage. For the existing workforce, earlier this year TESP launched the ‘Electrician Plus’ concept, which highlights how, to ensure public safety, solar PV and other low carbon installations should only be carried out by qualified electricians who have upskilled in the relevant technologies.

With their broad foundation of occupational competence, electricians are well placed to provide the flexibility and responsiveness needed to adapt to changing technologies and variable work pipelines.

TESP believes the industry should continue to push forward with apprentice recruitment and upskilling of qualified electricians, as solar PV is not the only increasing demand on the industry’s workforce.

“Whilst the initial projections seem within our reach, it’s important to highlight the expanding need for electricians elsewhere across the industry to meet future needs,” said TESP Chair Ruth Devine. “The impact of growth areas such as smart-homes, electrification of heat, electric vehicle charging point and battery storage systems, to name just a few, means we need a constant and increasing supply of qualified and qualifying electricians.

“We urge employers to take advantage of these opportunities and ensure they recruit and train to avoid future skills gaps and ensure electricians are keeping competence and ultimately public safety at the forefront of low carbon technology installation.”

This latest piece of research builds upon a study commissioned last year also by TESP, which found that the projected demand for electrical vehicle charging point installation (with the high-end estimate at circa 5000 electricians by 2030) can be readily accommodated by the industry.

TESP is currently working on a number of projects and initiatives to support employers and electricians to upskill. These include engaging with Local Skills Improvement Plans and devolved authorities to secure funding and prioritise upskilling in key technologies for qualified electricians, and looking at alternative training routes such as full-time courses, T-Levels and NVQs and how the industry can support more learners with work opportunities to help them become properly qualified.

Read the full report at www.the-esp.org.uk/lmi