Training UK workers for tomorrow's job market

Green skills briefing


Posted By:

Cara Jenkinson

Cities Manager

Ashden is calling for a revolution in green skills training in response to the UK government’s announcement that it has scrapped its flagship green homes grant scheme. This briefing analyses the lack of green skills in the UK, with a focus on the building and retrofit sector. We outline why urgent action is needed and highlight emerging solutions that can be scaled up or replicated.

What is the issue?

While the announcement of the ending of the green homes grant comes as a body blow to all involved in the UK’s retrofit industry, the government can still take action to create thousands of local green jobs around the UK. Green technologies can generate jobs, fuel the green recovery and build a low-carbon economy.

However, to seize these opportunities the UK must drastically scale up targeted investment in tailored green skills for workers. Without such investment, many workers face a precarious future, ill-equipped to meet the demands of tomorrow’s job market.

In Autumn 2020 Ashden consulted 20 experts across the low carbon heat and retrofit sector about this issue and launched a green skills award to uncover best practice across the UK. Our scoping confirmed that funding for green skills training is too low, too short-term, and not local enough.

Key data

A massive gap exists between the UK’s current capacity to retrofit homes and install heat pumps, and the sheer volume of work needed if we are to achieve zero carbon by 2050.

  • According to the Climate Change Commission’s 6th carbon budget nearly 11m homes need to be retrofitted by 2035.
  • There are only 950 heat pump installers accredited by MCS – the UK’s standards body in this area – compared to 96,000 installers of fossil fuel systems, primarily gas boilers. The UK Government said in Nov 2020 that 600,000 heat pumps must be installed per year by 2028. There is a need for rapid re-training of workers if the UK is to come close to reaching this goal.
  • Only around 1,300 installers were certified through Trustmark to undertake the now discontinued Green Homes Grant work. But the Government anticipated 600,000 homes being retrofitted through the scheme each year.
  • There are currently just 500 retrofit co-ordinators in the UK – less than 2% of the number needed. The New Economics Foundation has estimated a need for over 36,000 co-ordinators to deliver a nationwide programme of retrofit.
  • Compounding this issue, fewer than 10 of the UK’s 192 further education colleges deliver retrofit and low carbon heat training – reflecting the severe lack of trained instructors in this area.


Best practice ready for scale up and replication

There is a massive opportunity for the government to fill these capacity gaps, create thousands of new jobs, and build back better – by launching a green emergency workforce of newly trained and re-trained tradespeople.

Innovators around the UK are offering practical routes into the sector and building demand for trainee job opportunities in retrofit and low-carbon heat. Examples of best practice include those highlighted by the Ashden Award for Green Skills, sponsored by Garfield Weston Foundation.

  • Retrofit Academy is accelerating retrofit co-ordinator training nationwide – the organisation is currently working with 800 trainees.
  • The Ground Source Heat Pump Association (GSHPA) and Chartered Institute for Plumbing and Engineering (CIPHE) are creating new training to be accredited by City & Guilds, working in tandem with manufacturers.
  • Carbon Co-op in Manchester has trained over 200 installers and is working closely with Greater Manchester Combined Authority to scale up its work.
  • Warmworks, a fuel poverty initiative in Scotland, has created over 100 apprenticeships and uses SMEs in its supply chain.

These initiatives are a drop in the ocean compared to the overall work needed in this area. However, targeted government investment in green skills could spark a nationwide retooling and retraining of the UK’s workforce – bringing skilled local jobs to every community in Britain.

Other benefits of taking action include positioning the UK as a global force in green retrofit practice and training, demonstrating climate leadership in the build-up to COP26, and driving a post-coronavirus green recovery.

But for these benefits to be realised, the government must act on the following recommendations:


The government should undertake long-term and consistent investment in green skills, creating security for businesses, colleges and workers:

Steps to create demand

    • Confirm the funding for retrofit and low carbon heat activity. The forthcoming Buildings and Heat Strategy is an opportunity to outline how and when the government will bring forward further funding to deliver retrofitting as a national infrastructure priority.
    • Establish long term, consistent financial support and incentives to encourage private retrofitting. These could include green mortgages, a fiscally neutral variable stamp duty land tax for more efficient homes, and a revolving loan fund and/or low-cost finance for home energy retrofitting.
    • Ensure energy efficiency stipulations in building and property sales regulations that increase demand for green skills and jobs.
    • Ensure price parity of gas and electricity, or cheaper electricity, incentivising heat pump roll out.


Steps to support local delivery

    • Put in place a long-term area-based delivery approach to retrofitting, with local authorities playing a core role in creating demand for green skills and growing local supply chains.
    • Central government should work with local authorities by providing grants to train retrofit co-ordinators, assessors and heat pump installers as part of existing schemes such as the public sector decarbonisation scheme and local authority delivery scheme. Delivery deadlines for these schemes should be extended to allow delivery of new apprenticeships.


Steps to build skills

    • Extend funding for innovative training organisations
    • Ensure local government representation on the green jobs taskforce.
    • Launch a new high standard ‘low carbon general builder apprenticeship’.
    • Work with FE colleges to increase the number of expert instructors of green skills.


About Ashden

Ashden, a climate solutions charity, has been championing climate innovation for 20 years. We have been working with UK towns and cities since 2018 to turn climate ambition into climate action – lowering emissions while creating co-benefits including better health, new jobs, social equality, decent housing and resilient communities.

We will shortly be launching a learning network of local authorities in the South West of England focused on building retrofit demand and supply. We’re also advising the Institute of Apprenticeships Green Apprenticeship programme.

Contact Cara Jenkinson, Cities Manager, Ashden:

Twitter: @Ashden_org and @SustCitiesUK

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