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26 October 2021

CHC countdown to COP: How does the decarbonisation work of housing associations drive new skills?

CHC countdown to COP: How does the decarbonisation work of housing associations drive new skills?

As we countdown to COP26, Bethan Proctor, our Policy and External Affairs Manager, explains ways the housing sector can address the present skills shortage in order to meet net zero targets.

The COP26 summit will be the most significant climate event since the signing of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Leaders from around the world will gather in Glasgow to make decisions on how we can, as the Prime Minister has put it, “recover cleaner, rebuild greener and restore our planet.”

To do these things, the right skills will need to be in place. Climate change cannot be tackled unless we scale up the skilled workers needed to undertake decarbonisation programmes. In housing, this will mean training more traditional skilled workers such as roofers, plumbers, and electricians, as well as new, ‘green’ skills such as heat pump installers, retrofit coordinators, and advice specialists.

How big is this challenge?

CITB modelling suggests that an additional 12,000 full-time equivalent workers will be needed in Wales by 2028 to primarily deliver improvements to existing buildings to reduce energy demand. This represents an increase of 11% on the current size of the workforce in Wales.

Friends of the Earth’s report on an ‘Emergency Plan on Green Jobs for Young People’ shows that many apprenticeship standards do not yet exist, for example whole-house retrofits, whilst others need important updates and/or numbers to be expanded significantly, such as heat pump installers.

The Construction Skills Network forecasts an annual recruitment requirement of over 2,000 wood-and-interior fit-out tradespeople and just under 2,000 plumbers and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) trades across the UK up until 2023. Alongside these trades, the Federation of Master Builders additionally includes plasterers and roofers in its top six occupations in short supply.

So how can we build this skilled workforce?

The Welsh Government’s Optimised Retrofit Programme is a good place to start. Under the Pathfinder project, of which 26 housing associations are involved, a number of mini-projects have been delivered to identify existing skills gaps within the retrofit industry, and a framework has been developed for upskilling and retraining existing industry professionals.

The Construction Training Industry Board (CITB) states that the Welsh government must consider how the Optimised Retrofit and Innovative Housing Programmes can provide a clear pipeline of work and encourage industry to invest in creating a green construction workforce. It should also consider how procurement can drive net zero skills and training uptake. The Future Generations Commissioner has also recommended that the Welsh Government develop an economic stimulus package that leads to job creation and supports the decarbonisation of homes.

What about diversity?

There is a great opportunity here to create good quality, long term, local jobs. GMB Union has reported that just 12.5% of the construction industry workforce are female and just 5.4% are from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic background. More needs to be done to attract the best possible talent, including those from under-represented groups. The Electrical Contractors Association thinks better messaging across the sector is required to make clear the virtues of becoming a practitioner in the industry, including being part of directly addressing the climate crisis.

Creating new jobs to tackle climate change is a win-win situation. This, of course, is no mean feat and will require input from governments, the industry, and training providers. The commitment is there, and with COP26 just around the corner, we expect the sense of urgency to grow exponentially - it has to.