We are going to need more gas fitters, glaziers, insulation specialists and, most of all, more project managers if we want the built environment to become carbon neutral.

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has modelled the skills profile of the workforce needed to deliver ‘net zero’ using data from the Climate Change Committee (CCC). This shows that by 2028 additional decarbonisation work will have created the demand for 86,000 construction project managers, 33,000 building envelope specialists and 59,000 plumbers and HVAC specialists.

These will need to be found through a mix of new skilled jobs, increased efficiencies in existing roles, and innovation. That’s the key finding of Building Skills for Net Zero, published by the CITB today (15 March 2021).

UK construction contributes approximately 40% of the UK’s emissions, according to the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC). Reducing this to zero is not yet being considered, but there is a target to reduce it to net zero by minimising carbon emissions and then putting money into carbon offsetting schemes, such as tree planting. Putting offsetting schemes in the eco ledger of the construction industry, will enable construction to claim to be net zero, regardless of how close to, or far from, zero it actually gets.

However, the drive for a cleaner, greener construction presents big opportunities to make the industry more attractive to new recruits and upskill the existing workforce, the CITB says.

The bigger part of the challenge is reducing carbon emissions from existing buildings. It is estimated that 80% of UK buildings that will be in use in 2050 have already been built and these could represent 95% of future built environment emissions. Reducing emissions will require retrofit work on up to 27 million homes and two million non-domestic buildings.

The CITB hopes that these numbers will inspire people who have lost their jobs in other sectors over the past year, or who are approaching the end of their formal education, to consider a profession or trade in the build environment sector. It also says that training programmes, currently focused on skill srequried for new build projects, will need to include more on repair & maintenance work.

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The report is all part of push by industry representatives to get the government to back a national retrofit strategy. Piecemeal initiative like Green Deal and Green Homes Grants have had little impact. A more strategic  approach to changing the energy supply and performance of British homes is needed, it is believed. Putting the workforce in place is a priority to make this happen.

In December 2020 the Construction Leadership Council published a consultation paper setting out strategy proposals – Greening Our Existing Homes: National Retrofit Strategy.

The CITB’s report also supports the CLC Skills Plan, which sets out industry action to modernise and decarbonise skills, and CO2nstruct Zero, a collaborative industry change programme to deliver Net Zero.

CITB strategy and policy director Steve Radley said: “Net zero presents a huge challenge for construction but an even greater opportunity to create a more productive industry that’s also a more attractive career option. 

“We can get there by being clear on the key skills we’ll need, making sure we have the right courses and qualifications to deliver them and getting on with investing in them. Industry is already delivering what is needed, but it needs to happen at scale. The training sector must act now as employers’ needs will change fast. A joined up approach to skills across the built environment is key.

“Government also has a key role in specifying what it wants and creating the pipeline of demand that will give industry the confidence to invest in the skills we need and for providers to invest in the courses we need to deliver these skills.”      

Chris Carr, managing director of Cleethorpes-based Carr & Carr Builders, is on the board of the Federation of Master Builders, which has been leading the push for a national retrofit strategy. He said: “The skills challenge around net zero is huge and this research shows how it can be tackled. A big part of it will be upskilling the current workforce so that they understand what sustainable building is all about. I welcome this report and the Construction Leadership Council’s National Retrofit Strategy which show how, if we work together as an industry, we can make construction greener while seizing opportunities for growth.”

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