By supporting upgrades to homes and domestic heating, councils can boost local economies while tackling fuel poverty and lowering carbon emissions. Millions of homes in the social housing and privately-owned sectors need to be improved – or retrofitted – in the coming decades, potentially creating hundreds of new jobs in every local authority area in the UK.
But in order to bring communities the biggest possible benefits, and ensure opportunities flow to small businesses as well as national firms, councils must support the upskilling of their workforce and the growth of local supply chains. This will mean forming partnerships with colleges, housing associations, specialist training providers, voluntary groups and others. Councils can bring unique value to these partnerships, as trusted organisations well-placed to co-ordinate action and engage all sections of the community.
Getting builders on board
Research from The Green Register of Construction Professionals highlights the challenges in engaging local builders in green skills training. These range from a lack of incentives for already-successful builders, to the lack of regulation and licencing in the industry. Upfront costs for training and accreditation can also discourage smaller building firms from getting skilled up on retrofit.
But the same research underlined that builders are keen to be associated with quality, competence and innovation – so programmes designed to support these qualities may well attract interest.
The Green Register have been supporting sustainable building skills in South West England through the Futureproof programme, a collaboration with the Centre for Sustainable Energy. This involved training local builders through practical and theory sessions, including site visits showcasing best practice.
Trainees have also been helped to pass their new knowledge on to others. They were supported to deliver onsite ‘toolbox talks’ on issues such as airtightness and insulation, raising standards and encouraging more contractors to take an interest in sustainable building.
The Futureproof website features more information and free resources.
Skilling up your existing contractors
Many local authorities have successfully bid for Local Authority Delivery Scheme (LADS) funding, which supports the retrofit of poorly performing homes for people on low incomes. But finding suitably qualified contractors is a challenge. Bath and North East Somerset Council is taking a different approach. Rather than finding new commercial partners to deliver LADS, the authority is training up its local home improvement agency, who currently undertake upgrades for vulnerable residents. This approach is boosting skills of the existing workforce, and provides confidence to the council through working with existing trusted partners.
One huge skills shortfall is the UK’s lack of retrofit co-ordinators – specialist project managers responsible for upgrade projects, who make sure it reaches the national PAS 2035 standard. They act on behalf of the property owner, making sure their interests are protected.
The position is key to delivering high-quality retrofit, but there are currently just 500 retrofit co-ordinators in the UK – less than 2% of 36,000 needed. Some council-led retrofit schemes are outsourcing the retrofit co-ordinator role to their delivery partners but others are developing their own in-house co-ordinators, which gives council officers more confidence in procuring and monitoring installers. Retrofit Academy offer a range of in-person and online only courses – as well as a free retrofit toolkit for local authorities.
National support needed
A truly effective green skills revolution will need to be locally driven. That’s why Ashden has argued for local government representation on the national green jobs taskforce. It’s just one recommendation in our green skills briefing, published earlier this year.
Other recommendations for government action include extended funding for innovative training organisations, the launch of a new high standard ‘low carbon general builder apprenticeship’, and more work with colleges to grow the number of expert instructors of green skills.
However, at a grassroots level collaboration will be vital in the years ahead – particularly as time and resources are so tight. Local authorities can play an important role driving forward progress in their communities.
Ashden’s Local Authority Hubs Network is helping councils in South West England address retrofit challenges. Discover more insights from the project.