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We need new skills to rise to real estate’s retrofit challenge

We know the issue of retrofit is one of scale, writes Social’s John Quinton-Barber. Up to an estimated 27 million properties in the UK will have to undergo some form of retrofit by 2050 because they will still be in place. With 2050 now 27 years away, that, by my maths, equals one million retrofitted homes per year.

This shows that a big element of the challenge of retrofit is not just the physical interventions that need to be made but also the pace required. And to deliver at pace, we need people – a lot of them – and that means we are going to need to invest in skills development.

Learn how industry leaders approach sustainable retrofits at PlaceTech’s workshop-style event, ESG: The Retrofit Playbook on 23 February, sponsored by Social and Mills and Reeve.

There is a lot of commentary about a lack of skilled people to deliver on existing building commitments, so delivering retrofit at this scale is going to require a long-term strategic plan for the sector and supporting industries to get their head around.

And it is not just retrofit that will provide challenge and change to the construction industry. The Future Homes Standard, which comes in to force in 2025, will change how homes are built, and coupled with the increased popularity of offsite construction, you can see big changes coming to people working in the sector.

Opportunity to upskill

Low carbon technology requires new knowledge. One of the biggest – if not the biggest – challenges we face as a country in the net zero transition is how we are going to decarbonise our heating. Considered opinion is that we move away from fossil fuel-based heating – gas – towards more electrified methods of heating, including heat pumps. Presently there are more than a million registered gas installers in the UK and potentially up to 5,000 heat pump installers.

You can look at this in two ways. Firstly, this is a big opportunity to retrain an existing workforce, but it’s also a massive opportunity to bring new people into the sector. When you consider that government targets are for 600,000 heat pumps to be installed per annum from 2028, you can see this is a market that will have longevity, so a people and skills plan is needed to deliver it.

Also, the role of the installer in helping consumers in the retrofit journey cannot be overestimated. There is a lot of trust in installers, and the more that understand the new technology and its benefits for the home, the quicker the pace of change can become.

Trustworthy data is key

But it is also not just trade skills that are needed. To deliver retrofit effectively as housing associations, developers or large landlords you need to understand your property portfolio completely. That means you need data you can trust to make the right decisions.

We have an eclectic mix of property types in the UK, and that means interventions are likely to vary in individual properties. You need to have that holistic understanding to avoid costly and unnecessary mistakes.

To deliver retrofit we will need a broad mix of skills. We will need data analysts; we will need software engineers; we will need retrofit coordinators; and we will need communicators, amongst other roles, to explain what is happening, why it is happening and the changes people will have to make.

‘Jobs of tomorrow’

This is effectively a completely new sector. These will be part of the “jobs of tomorrow” and, therefore, it is why the younger generation need to be engaged and made enthusiastic about the opportunities that lie ahead. And it should also be linked to the social value that working in this area can add. Ultimately, this is about making homes better to live in – making them warmer and better ventilated – providing greater comfort and using less energy.

So, the skills question is a vital component of the net zero transition. But let’s not look at it just through a technical lens, but also how we can quickly scale up to deliver a successful and valuable transition.


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