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Curtis Armstrong Jun 27, 2024 11:10:37 AM 4 min read

NextGen Take On the Election: Vote – because your lives depend on it


Curtis-HeadshotEarly indications suggest that a lower proportion of young people (compared with other age groups) intend to vote in next month’s general election.  Curtis Armstrong from BESA’s NextGen Network says they should think again. 

Many people of our generation feel frustrated and often ignored by the UK’s politicians. We are troubled by the cost-of-living crisis, social inequality, lack of progress on climate change, lack of affordable housing for younger people, and poor rates of pay that make it harder to save for a comfortable future. 

Voting can seem a futile gesture as nothing ever seems to change, but the next generation has most to gain from voting and most to lose from not. 

We will live for longer with the consequences of the decisions made by the next government…and the incoming Prime Minister has a bulging in-tray: Climate change, energy security, health & wellbeing, economic growth/stagnation etc. etc. 

But do you notice anything else about that list? These are all things that young engineers can influence directly. Our work goes right to the heart of many of the issues that are of most pressing concern to the public and to our politicians – but unlike them, we are in the privileged position of being able to do something about them…given the right political support. 

Climate change 
For example, buildings are responsible for 40% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. We replace our commercial building at a rate of about 1% a year so that’s inconsequential when it comes to addressing climate targets. About 80% of existing buildings will still be here in 2050 – when we are supposed to hit net zero 

No, the ‘Big Win’ is in the retrofit race. We must retrofit and refurbish our (approximately) 30 million buildings at a rate of 5% per annum. Currently, we do less than half that. So, the next government needs to crack on, put the right incentives and policies in place, and then it will need all our industry’s expertise in low carbon solutions and retrofit strategies to get the job done. 

We also need to get to grips with “whole life carbon” i.e. the combination of operational and embodied – 21% of which is accounted for by building services systems and equipment. Us again. 

And what about health? Our work around Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is critical to better healthcare outcomes for building occupants, which means everyone because everyone uses buildings.  

This was catapulted back into public focus this month when the condensation issue hit the headlines following the BBC’s expose of the black mould epidemic in homes blamed on poorly applied cavity wall insulation. 

The current government was asked to support a new Clean Air Act that would have mandated specific targets for IAQ last year – it declined. 

Will the next administration be different? All the parties claim they will reform the NHS to make it more efficient and effective, but they primarily talk about spending more money when it really needs a total overhaul.  

So, how about addressing health problems at source, so people don’t need to go to the GP or hospital at all? Prevention is better than cure, after all. 

Improving building ventilation systems will mean better IAQ, and less mould and damp in homes and public buildings. The World Health Organization says three million people die every year because of poor quality IAQ which is a major trigger for a wide range of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. 

And if a doctor treats someone for asthma and then sends them straight back to their mouldy, damp home…the asthma just keeps getting worse.  

But will there be enough of us around to take on these big, social building-related problems? There is a huge skills gap, so could the next government fix that? 

The Conservative Party says it will deliver 100,000 ‘high skilled apprenticeships’ a year by the end of the next parliament – a 30% increase on current numbers – as an alternative to so-called “rip off university degrees” which it says do not provide value for money or good employment prospects. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) calculates that one in five students (about 70,000 a year) would have been better off not going to university in terms of their lifetime earnings, and the Office for Students says almost three in ten graduates do not go on to skilled employment or further education within 15 months of graduation. 

Retrofit and engineering 
Labour has also proposed a ‘growth and skills levy’ that would allow employers to spend up to half of the money they receive from the government to train existing staff in "high-level technical skills" including building retrofit and engineering. 

The party pledges to reserve at least 50% of the money from the training levy for apprenticeships and to create 150,000 traineeships for young people. 

BESA has argued for some time that degree courses should not be the “default option” for young people and that technical apprenticeships offer a valuable and rewarding alternative. However, it pointed out that employers would also need much more financial support to take on the greater number of apprentices proposed. 

So, the next government has some big decisions to make that could have a direct impact on both our working and domestic lives as citizens of the UK, but if we don’t vote, we can’t really complain if the wrong people get elected and go on to make the wrong choices. 

Have a look at what they all have to say and then exercise your democratic right. You’re a voter, so vote! 

Find out more, including how to join, the BESA NextGen network and learn all about our BESA Indoor Air Quality group.