The government’s target of reaching EPC C for all homes by 2030 is rapidly growing closer. Yet, it can only be met if there is better support for green skills and training, says Matthew Ahluwalia, programme officer at climate change charity Ashden
The social housing sector faces a fast-approaching deadline: to ensure millions of cold and draughty homes are brought up to standard by the end of the decade. This year’s energy crisis has highlighted the need for immediate action on fuel poverty. But only an ambitious, strategic effort to upgrade homes will tackle the problem in the long term.
The government has set a target for all social housing properties in the UK have an Energy Performance Certificate rating of ‘C’ by 2030. The task ahead is huge, when 60% of homes in England and Wales – including many in the social housing sector – have the lowest ratings of D to G.
As well as lowering carbon emissions, taking action will create a host of benefits for residents – from lower fuel bills to improved health. A massive programme of home upgrades – or ‘retrofits’ – will also create work in some of the country’s most marginalised communities.
But there are huge barriers to this, particularly a major shortage of skilled workers. There are just 3,000 heat pump installers, compared with 96,000 gas engineers; and only a small fraction of the UK’s builders are accredited to retrofit homes.
We will also need a workforce of 36,000 retrofit coordinators to ensure insulation work is carried out to rigorous quality standards and avoid Grenfell-style disasters. At present, we have just 2% of the number needed.
Innovation in Greater Manchester
Groundbreaking initiatives are addressing the retrofit skills challenge. B4Box is a construction training provider in Stockport, with a focus on social value. The social enterprise carries out work to bring unoccupied homes back into use, through a close relationship with housing association Stockport Homes Group. The contract between the B4Box and Stockport Homes Group casts the two as partners, rather than client and construction provider.
B4Box will only train up people that live within five miles of one of their construction sites, ensuring that they deliver targeted benefits to communities. More than 85% of B4Box’s employed full-time workforce come from disadvantaged backgrounds including underrepresented groups, ex-offenders, care leavers, and those far removed from the job market.
Through their integrated model, B4Box are able to deliver up to 90% of the work of a whole-house retrofit project with only two staff in addition to one or two apprentices, cutting costs and time significantly compared to other approaches.
“There are just 3,000 heat pump installers, compared with 96,000 gas engineers”
B4Box offer a powerful local solution to skills shortages. But Greater Manchester is also home to a regional innovation – the Low Carbon Academy’s Retrofit Skills Hub. This initiative was commissioned by Greater Manchester Combined Authority and delivered in partnership with Manchester College, Oldham College, and retrofit experts The Retrofit Academy and Fabric First.
It launched in September 2021 and aims to train more than 1,000 people, with 400 participating so far. It offers courses that upskills builders at a range of levels, from NVQs to two-week retrofit bootcamps. Courses are offered online and face to face, and have been developed with employers to make sure the skills taught match the demands of the industry. The initiative is also upskilling local tutors.
By getting involved with this sort of wide-ranging partnership, housing providers can help secure a pipeline of skills in their area – but also ensure strategic developments around retrofit take their needs into account.
Recommendations for government
While there are many examples of great innovation around the UK, only national action will drive retrofit at the pace required. Ashden’s Creating Warmer Homes briefing has recommendations for local authorities and central government in boosting retrofit.
Its calls to government include confirming the £9.2bn committed to retrofit and low-carbon heat in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, and investing an additional £500m for insulation measures by 2024.
Ministers should also ensure that government funded retrofit schemes allow sufficient delivery time to secure training objectives – for officers employed by councils and housing providers as well as tradespeople, project managers, retrofit assessors, and co-ordinators. Each grant should include a dedicated amount for training.
We also call on government to reform the apprenticeship system to make it easier for small and micro-businesses to take on apprentices, make current apprenticeship standards more flexible, and invest in further education colleges to develop training facilities and upskill instructors.
Hitting immensely challenging retrofit targets will require effort across every corner of society. But social housing offers opportunities to upgrade homes at speed and scale, jumpstarting the action needed.
The benefits will be enjoyed by all of us, through reduced emissions and economic growth, but particularly by vulnerable families lifted out of fuel poverty.
Image: Matthew Ahluwalia, programme officer, Ashden
Are you a social housing professional? Sign up for a FREE MEMBERSHIP to upload news stories, post job vacancies, and connect with colleagues on our secure social feed.