One more time – how best to train workers in green construction?

UK 2019 housingThe  U.K.’s Committee on Climate Change released a new report on February 21, U.K. Housing – Fit for the Future? , assessing how well U.K. housing  is prepared for the impacts of climate change, including heat waves and flood risks. Energy use in Britain’s 29 million homes accounts for 14% of current GHG emissions, and the report concludes that the U.K. cannot meet its present climate targets without major improvement in the housing sector.  The report states that energy use in homes actually  increased between 2016 and 2017, with many energy efficiency initiatives stalled and standards and policies weakened or not enforced.  The report identifies 5 priorities and makes 36 recommendations to improve that performance, with a goal  to reduce emissions by 24 % by 2030 from 1990 levels.

One of the five priority areas needing urgent change is “the skills gap”.  The report states: “Regular changes to key policies have led to uncertainty and poor focus on new housing design and construction skills in the UK. The UK Government should use the initiatives announced under the Construction Sector Deal to tackle the low-carbon skills gap. …. Professional standards and skills across the building, heat and ventilation supply trades need to be reviewed, with a nationwide training programme to upskill the existing workforce, along with an increased focus on incentivising high ‘as-built’ performance. There is an urgent need for further work to ensure that low-carbon heat and mechanical ventilation systems are designed, commissioned and installed properly, and that householders are supported to use them effectively. Similar efforts are needed to develop appropriate skills and training for passive cooling measures, water efficiency, property-level flood resilience and Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS).”

The Paper Trail of Government Reports:  The Construction Sector Deal  referred to is a 2018 policy paper, part of the larger Industrial Strategy exercise, which includes a “People” section , which describes very specific proposals to improve training and apprenticeship programs under the industry-led Construction Industry Training Board (which was itself reviewed in 2018).  The 2018 Construction Sector Deal built upon Construction 2025,  which was a vision paper of government and industry working together, released in 2013.

A different perspective from the government-industry reports appears in an article by   Linda Clarke, Colin Gleeson, and Christopher Winch in 2017, “What kind of expertise is needed for low energy construction?” which appeared in the journal Construction Management and Economics.  The authors, from ProBE , the Centre for the Study of the Production of the Built Environment at University of Westminster,   sketched out the essence of the problem, stating: “There is a lack of the expertise needed for low energy construction (LEC) in the UK as the complex work processes involved require ‘energy literacy’ of all construction occupations, high qualification levels, broad occupational profiles, integrated teamworking, and good communication.”  Their proposed prescription for low energy construction  was “a transformation of the existing structure of VET provision and construction employment and a new curriculum based on a broader concept of agency and backed by rigorous enforcement of standards. This can be achieved through a radical transition pathway rather than market-based solutions to a low carbon future for the construction sector.”

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