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Green skills needed for all construction jobs


By Tim Balcon, Chief Executive of CITB.

We all know the size and scale of the challenge when it comes to climate change. 

Globally, progress on climate action has not been anywhere near fast enough. The coronavirus pandemic led to a historic drop in global emissions last year, but it will be a glaring anomaly unless big changes are made.

Governments across the UK have committed to hit net zero emissions by 2050 (2045 in Scotland) but we have yet to work out the detail on how we get there.

We all expect retrofit to be part of the solution. UK homes are some of the most energy inefficient in Europe, responsible for nearly a quarter of our total emissions. According to the Climate Change Committee, we need to spend £45 billion over the next 15 years to retrofit our homes.

This figure is way beyond existing commitments, including the Government’s recently published Net Zero Strategy. However, that strategy does set us clearly on the path for change. It outlines changes to performance, standards and funding so that we can stop relying on polluting fossil fuels like coal and gas.

The Construction Leadership Council in England has called on the UK government to produce a national retrofit strategy, with similar calls made in Wales and Scotland where the COP 26 summit is currently being held. 

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Tim Balcon, Chief Executive, CITB

At CITB, we are in the business of skills and training, and this will play a big role in getting us to where we need to be. It’s clear we need a national skills policy that reflects the climate emergency, and we certainly don’t have that at the moment.

For me, it is inconceivable that any individual undertaking learning in the construction sector should finish their studies and training without a pre-determined minimum level of understanding of climate change and how their skills contribute to net zero.

There are some companies who are ahead of the game, building for the future, decarbonising their operations and upskilling their workforces. They are making changes they know to be right. The construction sector should build a skills system around these early adopters as the most efficient way of bringing everyone up to speed.

Earlier this year, CITB published our Building Skills for Net Zero research. It said that to deliver on our net zero aims, 350,000 new roles will need to be created in the construction industry. Our research concludes that net zero UK construction can be achieved by 2050, but will need radical changes to skills development and deployment, at speed and at scale.

It will take all of us – colleges, employers, federations, government, and the construction industry – working together to get the skills, knowledge and experience we need.

For governments, the focus has to be on a pipeline of work needed to give employers confidence to invest in new skills. This must be supported by a planned and funded skills plan.

For the training sector, there is a need to work closely with the construction industry and government to ensure qualifications and training are net zero-ready.

For industry, we must share good practice and support those who are unsure how to play their part. We need to support employers to invest in the right green training. And industry will need to work more collaboratively to change its culture so we can attract more diverse entrants.

CITB has a clear role to play in this change. We have to support employers so that their demand for skills is matched with a system that can deliver a green-skilled workforce. We are trying to take a phased approach to this although the pace needs to pick up. We are putting together the evidence we need to make the right choices and putting in place the foundations on which a skills system is rebuilt.

It’s a big challenge, but one that can be met if we work together. It will be worth it so we can create a safe and prosperous future for our children and grandchildren.