As consultants, we spend a lot of time speaking to people about the barriers to training and developing a workforce that is net zero trained.
In the construction sector that means skilled and accredited to install measures that decarbonise heating and reduce energy consumption. Often, when we ask about the challenges to going further and faster, we hear ‘lack of policy certainty’ provided as an explanation. To borrow a phrase from my days studying philosophy – this is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.
A consistent, long-term policy around housing retrofit and accompanying public investment is necessary because the scale of the challenge requires it. We know that at current rates of deployment it will take 200 years to install enough air source heat pumps to meet net zero and 600 years to install enough solid wall insulation. To reach net zero by 2030 the South West must train over 10,000 extra solid wall insulation installers by 2028 and over 17,500 extra heat pump engineers by 2027. More funding, over a longer period for both retrofit projects, and the skills to deliver them are needed.
But ‘policy certainty’ is insufficient. Jobs in construction are still for the most part, local. They are situated in towns, cities, and people’s home. Retrofit requires labour. It requires assessors to understand what buildings need, and why. It requires heat pump engineers to safely fit efficient, well-functioning heat pumps. It requires insulation technicians to put the insulation into walls, floors, and ceilings and the plasterers, bricklayers, joiners to put the buildings and walls back together again afterwards. Many trade jobs and employers are small and live in and around the places they work. This makes retrofit a national problem, but a local challenge.
OUR GREEN SKILLS REPORTING
It was a real pleasure to be able to talk about Gemserv’s recently published green skills reports at the launch of Cornwall’s Sustainable Construction Advisory Panel (SCAP). We were commissioned by the South West Net Zero Hub to set out the skills gaps for the retrofit market in the South West. We know that heating and buildings are worth an estimated 20% of the UK’s carbon emissions and 22% of Cornwall’s. Without eliminating these emissions, net zero is a mirage.
Along with the Green Construction Advisory Panel based in Devon, SCAP aims to bring together industry, local government, and education providers together to combat the challenges around training and upskilling the workforce needed to decarbonise the South West’s buildings. These are the people who need the workforce to deliver the retrofit to people’s homes in the South West, and educating the workforce to do it. Even more positively, skills are increasingly a local priority. The Adult Education Budget is being devolved to Mayoral Combined Authorities and some Combined Authorities in England and Wales. The establishment of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund devolved £3.6bn to local authorities in Great Britain, with skills as a key pillar of the Fund.
As such, the opportunity for these groups is huge. But how can they make an impact? By doing the things that SCAP discussed yesterday and GCAP have been discussing for months.
HOW CAN WE ACCELERATE THE GREEN SKILLS MARKET?
- Make the business case around green skills and retrofit to generate public and private investment in retrofit. Support the local authorities with the evidence they need to make compelling bids for funding to support retrofit skills and training. These are high value jobs. Our estimates suggest that getting to net zero heating and buildings could contribute £21.7bn to the South West’s economy by 2050. Local employers and education providers will know the value of good jobs to their areas.
- Use local knowledge and data. Target efforts on those areas that can have the greatest impact and what that might mean (is it prioritising fuel poverty, or payback times?). Many skills gaps are local too – colleges serve their local communities and by talking to employers can provide the qualifications and training that the industry needs to create a sustainable pipeline of talent.
- Making retrofit careers attractive. Give careers education in schools by talking about how construction jobs are green jobs. Evidence suggests that young people value green jobs and making a difference. Meeting the challenge around training trainers – most people in the heating engineer trade and the construction trade are over the age of 50. Many of them will want roles that are less physically demanding and where they can use their skills and experience. For some, teaching could be a way forward.
These are real, palpable steps that help to support the decarbonisation of heating and buildings. Without the people to install these measures, the local knowledge of the context of the regions, and without communities making the case for why investment is needed no amount of policy certainty is sufficient. We need to support groups like SCAP and GCAP to build the local, green jobs of the future.