Dr Vivien Kizilcec is a consumer research manager in the Consumer Insights team at Energy Systems Catapult. Energy Systems Catapult is an independent not-for-profit organisation that was set up to accelerate the transformation of the UK’s energy system and ensure UK businesses and consumers capture the opportunities of clean growth on the way to Net Zero. Vivien is an experienced researcher in the energy field, examining consumer needs and perspectives across the sector to support a just decarbonisation transition.
“Our report highlights that tackling the labour shortage and increasing diversity in the heating sector aren’t separate issues. We can address the labour shortage if we transform the sector to attract and retain a more diverse workforce.”
The importance of clean and affordable energy around the world
I undertook a BSc in Politics and Economics at the University of Southampton. During this time, I became very interested in the topic of energy and the importance, in this modern world, of having access to clean and affordable energy around the world.
To help me realise my ambition of working in the energy sector, I completed an MSc in Environmental Technology at Imperial College London, specialising in energy policy. I then took the opportunity to complete my PhD in Renewable Energy at University College London, in collaboration with the solar energy company, Bboxx. My research focussed on examining the customer journey of solar home system users in Rwanda and forecasting their future electricity demand. Following this, I joined the Consumer Insights team at Energy Systems Catapult.
Accelerating transformation of the UK’s energy system
Energy Systems Catapult is an independent not-for-profit organisation that was set up to accelerate the transformation of the UK’s energy system and ensure UK businesses and consumers capture the opportunities of clean growth on the way to Net Zero.
As a consumer research manager in the Consumer Insights team, I have worked on various projects, including on fuel poverty, local area energy planning and upskilling for the Net Zero transition. On a day-to-day basis this involves working closely with clients and my colleagues to understand and define project objectives, design and conduct research, for example interviews or surveys, before analysing and reporting the key insights. As the cliché goes, no two days are ever the same…
Increasing diversity in the heating sector
I’ve recently been working alongside colleagues on a report that highlights the looming labour and skills shortage in the heating sector, which is likely to worsen as older heating engineers retire and fewer young people take up roles in a skilled trade. This is not surprising.
We aimed to shed light on the huge opportunity we have available to us. We can, and should, open the sector up to more women and individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds. If we do not draw attention to opportunities, we risk missing them, to the detriment of our collective pursuit of Net Zero.
The transition to Net Zero by 2050 will require upskilling across the sector to enable tradespeople to offer advice on low carbon technologies, as well as design and integrate these systems into homes effectively. At present, the heating industry mainly consists of white men, with only 2% of tradespeople being women and only 5% having an ethnic minority background.
Women and ethnic minorities represent an untapped talent pool that could help address both the labour and skills shortage. The report highlights the key barriers and some opportunities for increasing diversity in the sector.
The research consisted of a review of the limited literature on the topic, followed up with detailed interviews with 16 participants. A mixed sample was sought both in terms of demographics and job roles, with tradespeople, professionals with recruitment responsibilities and industry experts and academics being interviewed.
Tackling labour shortages and increasing diversity in the sector
If we want to meet our Net Zero targets, we need to change the way we heat our homes. The old ways of doing things cannot be relied upon. Home heating is responsible for about 14% of the UK’s carbon emissions. With most of us using fossil fuel-based systems (e.g., gas boilers) to keep our homes warm, you will appreciate just how big the scale of this challenge is. We will need a workforce that’s big enough to cope with this green transition.
But it’s not just about the size of the workforce. Think about changing your own heating system. You’ll want advice from someone who understands the technology, of course. But you’ll probably also want that person to understand you and your home, you’ll want to feel you can trust them and be confident that they’ll help you get what you need. If we’re going to make low carbon heating systems work for people, we need a workforce that understands its customers and can build their trust and confidence.
Our report highlights that tackling the labour shortage and increasing diversity in the heating sector aren’t separate issues. We can address the labour shortage if we transform the sector to attract and retain a more diverse workforce. To do that, the key needs of women and ethnic minority transpeople must be considered. These include:
- Increased availability and, importantly, awareness of fair job opportunities
- Training that can be tailored to individual’s needs, prior experiences and ambitions
- Tackling discrimination to achieve a healthy and inclusive environment
This workforce is going to play a vital role in meeting Net Zero. There’s a huge opportunity for this sector to appeal to people who are concerned about climate change, who want to help others, who are looking for a fulfilling job that aligns with their values. Making the sector a healthy, inclusive, and enjoyable place for everyone who works or wants to work in it is essential.
Find out more
If you’re interested in the sector, the National Careers Service website highlights how to become a plumber or a heating and ventilating engineer in the sector and what the career path and progression would look like. Look on social media, too. There are Facebook and Instagram pages built by, and dedicated to, women working in this sector and related industries who want to encourage and support people working in, or moving into, the sector. (You can also read Womanthology, of course, and search through their archives of case studies and stories…!)
There are few female role models in the sector, however there are a number of companies trying to change this and if you are interested in getting into this sector, I’d encourage you to reach out to them to understand what the role entails and the career benefits.
How YOU can support
If you believe in the need to get more girls and women involved in these careers, first of all, please share the report amongst your contacts to spread the word – it is a small action, but one that may spur further discussion and may even encourage some of your community to take on the challenge of becoming a heating or plumbing professional.
If you are a female tradesperson or have an ethnic minority background, please consider discussing your profession in schools to raise much needed awareness of this career option and help attract and inspire entrants into the industry. The clock is ticking, we must encourage younger entrants into the sector, if we do not, it places our Net Zero ambitions in doubt.
There is so much we can do personally, too. Talk about this – with friends, children, parents, partners, colleagues. Let’s challenge how we think about this sector ourselves and what it might offer to anyone looking for a valuable, fulfilling career that contributes to Net Zero, one of the biggest challenges facing our society today.
An early step on a bigger journey
This research has been an early step on what needs to become a much bigger journey. We’re working with organisations across the country on how we can address the skills gap and how a diverse workforce is a key part of the solution. We know it’s a huge challenge but it’s one that will have enormous impact.
Ultimately, we’re looking forward to a future where people are working in jobs they love, contributing to a Net Zero UK, supporting households across the country through a transition to low carbon heating.
Please contact Energy Systems Catapult if you would like to work together with us and seize the opportunities to inspire and retain a diverse workforce.