The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has called for a major injection of funding and planning into addressing the skills shortage which is preventing the refurbishment and retrofitting of buildings in line with the government's carbon reduction targets.
A study by the recruitment firm Reed Environment estimated that current rates of recruitment for professions carrying out building retrofit work would have to triple if the country was to meet its 2050 Net Zero target.
It concluded that the UK is currently on track to miss the required number of building energy efficiency upgrades by 55 years – only reaching it in 2105 – due to “a serious shortage of retrofit training and recruitment pathways”.
BESA said building retrofits should be “a main policy and business pillar of Net Zero”, but that the country was falling behind its targets due to the lack of a comprehensive plan for how the 2050 target could be delivered.
“Retrofitting homes and commercial buildings needs to be a main building block of Net Zero,” said the Association’s director of training and skills Helen Yeulet. “This requires a serious acceleration in recruitment of the necessary skills, which will also underpin business growth and job creation in the sector.”
The UK is also lagging comparable European countries when it comes to retrofit work, according to research from the MCS Charitable Foundation, which revealed it was installing less than a tenth of the number of heat pumps as France despite having a similar heating market.
Only 55,000 heat pumps were sold in the UK last year, compared with 621,000 in France. 20 other European countries also had higher installation rates than the UK, which is being held back by the lack of a comprehensive and consistent plan for ‘green skills’, according to BESA.
The MCS report said that there was currently “little chance” of the UK meeting the government’s target of 600,000 heat pump installations a year by 2028. However, with a proper skills strategy it should be possible to create 50,000 new jobs in this market, up from just 2,000 today.
BESA welcomed the launch of the government’s £5m Heat Training Grant which offers £500 towards heat pump training for self-employed installers, the unemployed and those working for a business with 250 employees or less. It is expected to help upskill around 6,000 heating engineers, but the Association said it was important that the government made long-term policy commitments and abandoned its ‘stop-start’ approach to funding.
“Employers need to have the confidence to invest in their workforces and diversify their businesses,” said Yeulet. “We need to take a leaf out of France’s book.”
She also called for the government to give a clear commitment to the Future Homes and Building Standard, which is due to come into force in 2025 and would set energy efficiency benchmarks that could drive retrofit work.
France has benefited from energy efficiency and electrification of heat being political priorities for more than a decade underpinned by generous financial incentives. The installation market grew from 100,000 a year in 2010 to over 600,000 last year and France now has more than 30,000 people employed full time in heat pumps.
“There is no mystery about why other countries are doing better than us,” said Yeulet. “They have clear policy commitments and long-term, properly funded training programmes in place that give employers the confidence to invest and grow their businesses.
“We have been talking about this for years, but this is not just about government. We all need to step up and do what we promise by investing in our workforces. Not just because it is the right thing to do for the planet, but also because the potential for business growth is huge.”