New taskforce report outlines actions to solve green skills gaps in London’s sustainable commercial built environment 

The Skills for a Sustainable Skyline Taskforce has published a new report that outlines six ‘high-level’ recommendations to solve the green skills gaps in central London’s sustainable commercial built environment sector.

Launched by the City of London Corporation, the taskforce has built an evidence base on skills gaps and workforce shortages across the sector and aims to use its findings to drive up the number of skilled workers across the entire lifecycle of projects so that more sustainable commercial properties can be delivered in central London.

As the Creating a Skilled Workforce for Central London’s Sustainable Skyline: Skyline Skills Recommendations Report 2023 notes, the challenge is particularly acute in this part of the UK because central London has the largest concentration of commercial buildings. 

"The number of additional built environment workers is surging in the thousands, but the workforce is not growing enough to meet this demand," warns the report.

"There are not enough people with the necessary sustainability skills to reduce carbon emissions at various project stages, including in construction, design, and in-use."

To give an example, the report says the built environment sector will need to train between 2,000-3,000 heat pump engineers every year for the next six years to meet installation demand. 

The Skills for a Sustainable Skyline Taskforce also warns that employers are spending months searching for qualified workers to fill many of the roles.

It added that it is not only new entrants that require skills training but also the existing workforce because the core skills needed are constantly evolving, with a growing emphasis on lifelong learning. 

"The industry needs to continue training people as technology and methods change, to ensure employees’ skills are at pace with industry demands," the report noted.

In terms of apprenticeships, the taskforce pointed out how employers are failing to fully utilise this valuable resource for a number of reasons, listing a lack of consistent local policies as well as a lack of time and resources. 

However, when the taskforce undertook a survey of more than 100 organisations across the built environment, it found that a third had taken on an apprentice, hired a graduate or invested in green skills training, which suggests that employers are willing and prepared to make investments in skills.

Having undertaken a literature review and conducted a sector-wide skills survey, the taskforce also interviewed key stakeholders such as students and teachers and held roundtable discussions to collate the evidence that has informed this report. 

In addition, contributions from the Construction Industry Training Board, Arup and task group members have also informed the evidence base.

Drawing on the evidence collated and also reflecting the Taskforce Strategy Steering Board’s views, the report outlines six headline recommendations aimed at government, training providers and professional bodies as well as the wider sector, including developers, contractors and professional and trade services.

These recommendations cover the planning pipeline; industry accountability; training and apprenticeships; policies for a skilled workforce; diversity and culture; and promotion and engagement (see box below).

To support these recommendations, the taskforce has also announced it will deliver what it calls two ‘dynamic’ work streams.

The first will focus on available policy and influence levers to overcome the key barriers to upskilling, diversifying and expanding the built environment workforce.

The second will deliver a targeted industry campaign to encourage existing workers to upskill and reskill, including upskilling with more inclusive workplace and hiring practices. This ‘Workforce Engagement Campaign’ will also look to attract new entrants from "untapped, diverse pools of talent’.

"We must radically rethink the path forward for the sector; there has never been a more important moment for change," explained Keith Bottomley, the taskforce’s chair in the report’s foreword.

‘However, London is still lacking a workforce with the skills needed to carry out new, innovative construction methods that would enable the sector to reach its sustainability goals. By some estimates, the UK is anticipating that over 100,000 people will need to be recruited and upskilled to carry out the work for our upcoming projects."

Bottomley noted that a lack of a nationwide strategy on commercial buildings has led to ‘inconsistent requirements being applied at the local level’ and this has created a ‘lopsided demand for skilled workers’.

He also said that qualifications, training offers and apprenticeships "are not currently fit for purpose and are not being delivered quickly enough to match emerging roles".

In addition, the sector has "a dire image and diversity problem" that makes it difficult to attract and retain new entrants.

"It is my hope that this evidence report will act as a call to action for our sector’s employers, government and professional bodies," he concluded.

"We need greater collective action to address the workforce gaps in our sector if we are to meet our climate goals."

The six high-level recommendations

  1. The planning pipeline: create an easily accessible way to collect and share data on upcoming developments and retrofit activities in central London so that the sector can better quantify workforce skills shortages needed to undertake the work. The taskforce adds this platform could build on the Greater London Authority’s existing one: the Planning London Datahub.
  2. Industry accountability: the sector should have senior-level accountability for sustainability and skills training. The taskforce argues that organisations should also develop targeted strategies to encourage sustainable design and retrofit as well as to work with clients and tenants to efficiently run in-use operations.
  3. Training and apprenticeships: develop sustainability training, apprenticeships, and upskilling courses for emerging job roles by actively engaging and collaborating with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and training providers
  4. Policies for a skilled workforce: work with government to set more ambitious green skills legislation for the built environment. The taskforce says this can include exploring ways to reform section 106 policies, playing an active role in shaping the Procurement Bill, which is currently under review, and reforming the Apprenticeship Levy.
  5. Diversity and culture: invest in attracting diverse candidates to a wider spectrum of sustainable roles across the built environment. The taskforce argues that achieving this will involve collecting diversity data, setting targets and strategies, and taking action to reform organisational cultures so that they are fair and inclusive.
  6. Promotion and engagement: engage with schools and colleges as well as generate positive PR to better promote the sector’s role in managing climate change and its wide-ranging career pathways. 

 

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