The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has called for a major injection of funding and planning into addressing the skills shortage which it claims is preventing the refurbishment and retrofitting of buildings in line with the Government's carbon reduction targets.
The Association says 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 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 what it dubs ‘a serious shortage of retrofit training and recruitment pathways’.
BESA says building retrofits should be ‘a main policy and business pillar of Net Zero’, but claims the country is ‘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 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, says research from the MCS Charitable Foundation, which reveals that the UK is 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, and 20 other European countries also have higher installation rates than the UK. The MCS report said there was currently ‘little chance’ of the UK meeting the Government’s target of 600,000 heat pump installations annually by 2028. However, BESA claims, 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 welcomes the launch of the government’s £5 m 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 stresses that it is important the Government ‘makes long-term policy commitments’, and abandons its ‘stop-start’ approach to funding. Employers need to have the confidence to invest in their workforces and diversify their businesses,” said Helen 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. BESA says France has benefited from energy efficiency and electrification of heat ‘being political priorities’ for more than a decade, ‘underpinned by generous financial incentives’.
“There is no mystery about why other countries are doing better than us,” Helen Yeulet added. “They have clear policy commitments, and long-term, properly funded training programmes that give employers the confidence to invest and grow their businesses.”