HOMES UK 23: How can local authorities and social housing providers address their practical retrofit skills gap?

As the countdown to HOMES UK continues, David Pierpoint, CEO of The Retrofit Academy, lays out how local government and social housing leaders can work to address their practical retrofit skills gap to meet decarbonisation targets.

Thanks to the financial boost from the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) and Home Upgrade Grant (HUG), local authorities and social housing providers have a fantastic opportunity to improve housing at scale. With Phase 2.2 of the SHDF providing £80m of funding for the improvement of around 9,500 more homes, the financial incentive to make homes more energy efficient and comfortable for residents is firmly in place.

The question that is left unanswered, however, is where are the skilled people required to deliver retrofit for these programmes and further projects into the future?

We understand decarbonising homes in the UK is a tough challenge. We have to contend with the changing longevity of funding schemes and whether there will be further investment into the future. But we must also make quick progress in understanding how many people and which skills are needed to deliver retrofit to the intended quality at scale.

Social landlords and local authorities must ask themselves if have the skills in house to be great retrofit clients. Does the industry need dozens of Retrofit Coordinators? Or thousands? Are there enough external wall insulation (EWI) installers, or a fraction of what’s required? Will the labour be available when the projects need it?

Developing a workforce

To carry out any kind of resource planning, organisations must first identify which efficiency measures are set to be installed; across how many properties they plan to deliver them; and the labour available internally or externally through contractors. This makes it possible to calculate the labour force needed using Workforce Development Modelling, our new tool developed to support the industry.

A critical aspect of our own Workforce Development initiative has been working collaboratively with leading contractors of large scale retrofit programmes – including Equans, Wates, Mears, Vinci, United Living and Sustainable Building Services – to understand skills gaps and delivery metrics.

By carrying out this work, we have built an industry consensus on the delivery timescales for retrofit programmes and, crucially, the number of installers required to complete them. For example, we found the typical EWI install takes a team of three people eight days (24 days total per property), then a 500-home EWI project is going to take 24 x 500 = 12,000 man-days. Taking into account programme start and finish dates, it is then possible to calculate how many EWI installers are needed.

Working out how many people are required to carry out each element of retrofit is simple. Local authorities and social housing providers subtract their available workforce capacity from the required capacity that has been calculated. The figure left over should be the quantifiable deficit needing to be addressed through a combination of internal upskilling and external recruitment. This is the sort of Workforce Development work that we are currently undertaking with housing associations and large contractors.

The results of this Workforce Planning Model provide useful guidance and equips housing providers with the tools to put an action plan in place with their contractor partners.

So once the scale of the challenge has been quantified, what are the next steps to address it?

Training Needs Analysis

When it comes to identifying where roles in retrofit could be filled by people already within an organisation, a ‘Training Needs Analysis’ can provide a framework to get people with the right skillsets suitably qualified. Assessment of the skills an individual already has and any new skills they must learn to reach the requirements of these roles is key to this. Through creating the tailored training program for that individual, local authorities and social housing providers

can fill the roles with competent and qualified individuals. While doing this analysis, it is worth considering working style preferences – for instance some people prefer office working or while others thrive working out on site.

This leaves the job vacancies that cannot be filled from the existing workforce. Those of us directly involved in retrofit work have the collective task of working together to attract individuals from outside of industry to take their first steps into a career in the sector.

We have already enrolled over 5,500 learners to our courses and have set the target of training 200,000 retrofitters by 2030. Through initiatives and partnerships across the UK with local authorities such as Birmingham City Council and the Greater South East Net Zero Hub, we are targeting growth in key regions to make this number even bigger. As more people qualify through training courses like ours, more of the retrofit roles across the country can be filled.

There is a significant challenge ahead. We don’t yet have the developed workforce needed to achieve the EPC Band C target by 2030, even before tackling the 2050 net zero goals. In fact, we believe we are around 400,000 people short of what we need over the next decade.

However, if council and social housing leaders collaborate with The Retrofit Academy, we can all get practical about upskilling the existing workforce and attract new entrants for these programmes and future retrofit projects.

A way we are making sustainable impact in communities is by helping contractors fulfil their social value targets through job creation, accessibility to training and a legacy for future projects. A component of this is setting up Retrofit Academy Training Hubs in FE Colleges and connecting them with demand for training from projects. Already, we have 10 such Hubs, supported by licensing training materials and comprehensive trainer and learner support package. This will help position retrofit in the educational mainstream far more quickly and give contractors the workforce they need to deliver what is being expected of them.

For more information about our workforce development tools, click here.