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Construction Skills Are Crucial for Tackling the Cost of Living Crisis

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With the growing need for the retrofit, we’re being held back by a lack of specialist construction skills, however, there is still hope. A Manchester-based social enterprise is tackling the shortage through a new training programme.

The heat is on

Temperature records have been smashed across the UK this summer. People across the country suffered in homes that aren’t designed to handle fierce heatwaves. It’s not just the heat that our country’s homes struggle with. In cold months, draughts put a strain on our heating systems, condensation results in mould and can even cause structural damage.

Some of this is due to the age of the properties. In England, as of 2020, ~4.7 million owner-occupied houses were built before 1919 vs. 2.8 million which were built after 2002 (Statista). But even many modern homes aren’t fit for purpose. This means that the once-niche industry of “retrofit” is rapidly becoming mainstream.

What is retrofit?

Retrofit means changing an existing building to increase its energy efficiency. There are multiple approaches to this process: fitting insulation, installing new windows or doors, improving the heating system, adding draught-proofing, upgrading ventilation, installing solar panels etc.

More and more householders want to make energy efficiency improvements to their homes, but even those with the savings to pay for measures are struggling to find trusted professionals to carry out work. The number of people skilled in this type of work is vastly outweighed by the demand.

Updating skills to meet demand

To tackle the cost-of-living and climate crises, contractors need to be aware of energy-saving technologies and materials and be able to install them with skill and care. If energy efficiency measures are not installed properly, they can fail or cause long-term damage.

Retrofit involves some new technologies, but many retrofit measures aren’t brand new. For example, switching out windows for triple-glazed units requires installers to build on their existing expertise and develop skills in airtightness in order to deliver the desired energy efficiencies.

Each person working on a retrofit project also needs to understand how the work they do impacts other energy efficiency measures. A multi-skilled approach is important for successful ‘deep’ retrofit projects, where multiple improvements are being made.

Tackling the Skills Gap

Construction education providers are making progress with retrofit qualifications, especially for specific roles like Retrofit Assessors and Coordinators. Retrofit must become part of all construction training pathways. Colleges need investment to develop retrofit facilities, to hire/train staff and to update existing qualifications.

Those already working in the industry need to think about up-skilling. Everyone in the construction industry is busier than ever, so it’s important for training providers to adapt their services to fit with the realities of work.

A flexible approach to training helps, with a mix of classroom, online, and on-site learning. In Manchester, People Powered Retrofit are running their Retrofit Fundamentals training courses both at an accessible workshop and online, to widen access to anyone in the UK who wants to attend.

They also host on-site ‘toolbox talks’ for their network of retrofit professionals to learn new techniques on the job. Local networks, forums for peer learning, and spaces for people entering the industry to learn from others also help to encourage knowledge sharing and best practices. The AECB’s is a page with events and training on sustainable building topics.

It’s clear to see a skills transformation is needed across the construction sector to deliver on targets for reducing energy use and future proof our homes in the face of skyrocketing bills. To learn more about the retrofit challenge and the skills to become part of the solution, book People Powered Retrofit’s upcoming ‘Retrofit Fundamentals’ courses.

 

Let us know what you think the long-term impacts of the skills gap will be.
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