Apprentices install the Highlands’ green revolution one heat pump at a time
Growing its own talent through apprentices has helped RI Cruden become an eco success story, driving the green energy revolution throughout the Highlands.
The Inverness-based plumbing and heating company began the move into renewables 10 years ago and has installed biomass boilers, heat pumps and solar panels throughout the north-west of Scotland and beyond.
But when you are working with new, developing technologies it’s almost impossible to buy talent off the peg. That’s why the company has invested in apprentices to give it a workforce with the unique skills needed in this fast-changing industry.
RI Cruden’s Daniel Ross explained: “The Highlands doesn’t have enough existing renewables specialists with the skills we need. The best solution is to develop our own.
“Both the company’s directors came through apprenticeships themselves, so they know what works and what doesn’t work.
“We take the traditional journeyman apprentice method and tweak it to meet our business’s needs and for the future of the renewable sector.
“There are no readily available engineers with 20 or 30 years experiences in renewables, so we need to upskill existing engineers in new technologies.
"However when we train young people up to the standards we hold through our apprenticeship scheme, we get the full benefit.”
Over 12,000 employers support Scottish Apprenticeships, which are work-based learning opportunities or jobs with industry-recognised qualifications.
Designed with employers for employers, Scottish Apprenticeships are demand-led and responsive to regional skills needs.
Out of 55 members of staff, RI Cruden currently has 15 Modern Apprentices and three Graduate Apprentices. Most are on the tools, with a few in office support roles.
We’ve got a good mix of experienced heads and the apprentices who bring enthusiasm, new ideas and suggestions. No one else here is doing what we’re doing.
RI Cruden, Scottish Apprenticeship Awards nominee
Since starting to employ Modern Apprentices in 2011, more than 20 have come through the doors. The retention rate is an impressive 90% - including the first ever apprentice, Greg Matheson, who is now the Renewables Installation Manager and trains the next generation of newbies.
As well as learning from Greg’s experience, there is a buddying system in place. Daniel said: “The apprentices pair up and get to work with apprentices who are years ahead of them. They can learn so much from them.”
When they are on site installing the latest sustainable heating and plumbing systems, the apprentices are great advocates for green systems. Daniel explained: “Out in rural areas, some of our customers can be a bit sceptical of new technologies.
“But once we get that conversation underway, and the apprentices are on site, they are so knowledgeable about what they’re doing and the benefits the new kit will bring, they can talk it through with customers.”
The apprentices are also spreading the word that RI Cruden is a great place to work.
Greg explained: “Word of mouth has helped drive our apprenticeship scheme. We have already had a couple of apprentices who have encouraged friends to apply.”
The search for talent never stops. Greg and his colleagues get out and visit schools and colleges in the Highlands to spread the word about career opportunities within the renewables sector. RI Cruden also offer work experience via various organisations, including the charity Barnardo’s.
The company’s apprentice experience has evolved into working more closely with Skills Development Scotland through the Skills for Growth support programme, which led to a partnership between the business, Skills Development Scotland and the University of the Highlands & Islands to develop a bespoke renewable technology course. RI Cruden hopes to start a pilot scheme this year and that this will be the first of many initiatives to transform the Highlands into Scotland’s renewable energy hub.
RI Cruden’s efforts to grow its own in the Highlands has been recognised, with the company named a finalist in the Scottish Apprenticeship Awards within the SME Apprentice Employer of the Year category sponsored by Well-Safe Solutions.
Daniel feels the company has the balance just right. “We’ve got a good mix of experienced heads and the apprentices who bring enthusiasm, new ideas and suggestions. No one else here is doing what we’re doing.”
Find out more
The winner of the SME Apprentice Employer of the Year category sponsored by Well-Safe Solutions will be revealed during Scottish Apprenticeship Week, which takes place from 4 to 8 March.