Green skills gap ‘could derail net-zero’, major UK construction firms tell Government

The Government is currently aiming to host 50 gigawatts (GW) of installed offshore wind capacity by 2030.

The joint call to action has been made by the likes of Morgan Sindall, Mace Group and Tideway, through a new paper published by think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

The paper reveals that some 750,000 UK-based construction workers are planning to retire in the next 15 years – a figure greater than the number of workers likely to enter the sector within this timeframe.

Contributors to the paper argue that this trend is being compounded by the fact that current education and training is, broadly, not aligned with the UK’s net-zero target. Given that most of the buildings which will exist in the UK in 2050 – the date by which the UK is legally required to deliver net-zero – are either already built or in the pipeline, the paper calls for urgent action.

The paper does praise the UK Government for its efforts to help the construction sector “build back better” post-pandemic, including the development of the Future Homes Standard and the orchestration of UKRI’s transforming construction challenge. But it states that the overall approach is not yet joined up or ambitious enough.

It argues that past moves can be built upon with the creation of a new National Infrastructure and Construction Skills Demand Pipeline at the Infrastructure and Projects Authority. The Pipeline would specifically work with industry and the further and higher education sector, as well as Whitehall departments, to map out investment in employment and skills.

The report also wants government departments to include investments in skills in any major infrastructure projects that they support, going beyond one-off funding pots. Workers should be guaranteed improved pay and good conditions, also.

While these measures have upfront costs, the report focuses instead on the likely benefits. It cites previous research from the IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission, which found that some 1.6 million green jobs could be created through adequate investment in the delivery of the UK’s long-term net-zero and nature restoration goals.

“We cannot build back better without the builders,” IPPR’s construction sector lead Oscar Watkins said.

“As this letter from industry leaders and organisations demonstrates, the construction sector wants to be at the heart of the UK’s drive to net-zero emissions and a low carbon economy but recognises it does not yet have the skills it will need to do this.

“In addition to the steps the industry says it will take to meet this challenge, departments across government need to come together and direct investment where it is needed most, to unlock the full potential of businesses in the sector. The government’s procurement system also needs to be made more adept at recognising and meeting skills needs.”

The organisations supporting the report are the Construction Industry Training Board; the British Property Federation; the Collaborative Client Forum; the Construction Clients Leadership Group; Duprez Consulting; Cast Consultancy; the Federation of Master Builders; Danny Sullivan Group; the Chartered Institute of Building; K&M Painting and Decorating; Tideway; Morgan Sindall; IEMA; the Green Construction Board; Mace Group; the Supply Chain Sustainability School and the Greater London Authority.

London Assembly member Leonie Cooper; Farmer Review author Mark Farmer; former BAM Nuttall chief executive Stephen Fox and Lord Anthony Young of Norwood Green are also supporting as individuals. Lord Young has previously held Government posts and opposition posts relating to business, innovation, skills and the environment.

Citizens’ juries

The publication of the new IPPR paper comes shortly after the think-tank revealed the latest results from its citizens’ climate juries in London and the North East.

Using the opinions expressed by members of the London project, co-organised with Citizens UK, the IPPR calculated that the next London Mayor will need to help deliver 60,000 green jobs and apprenticeships in sectors relating to nature and the low-carbon transition over the next mayoral term.  They will also need to ensure that at least 100,000 homes classed as fuel poor are retrofitted within the same period.

Sarah George

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