Blog: Building housing retrofit skills webinar, 15 September 2021

The LGA Webinar, building housing retrofit skills, was organised as part of the LGA’s green webinar series. This overview provides a summary of each speaker’s presentation.

To deliver the substantial change needed in the UK economy by 2050, local government will play a key role in facilitating technology transitions in homes and businesses, informing residents, supporting local businesses and upskilling of the local workforce. Whilst the raft of national and local government net zero targets will drive demand for low-carbon goods and services over the coming years, it is crucial that there is a workforce in place to deliver the change needed by 2050.

The event was chaired by Councillor Ray Bryan, Cabinet Member, Dorset Council. He was joined by:

  • David Pierpoint, Founder and CEO at The Retrofit Academy CIC, The National Centre of Excellence for Retrofit
  • Pippa Palmer, Research Strategist, School of Built Environment & Architecture, London South Bank University
  • Hannah Jameson, Assistant Director for Sustainable Development and Climate Change Response, The London Borough of Lambeth
  • David Gleave, Economic Development Officer, Test Valley Borough Council

The LGA also released their support offer for building housing retrofit skills through a series of action learning sets. Presentations form the webinar can be found in past events.

The webinar Chair, Councillor Ray Bryan, began the session by emphasising the importance of local government in reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. In 2018 the UK government projected that the low carbon economy could grow by up to 11 per cent per year up to 2030 which is substantially higher than the growth rate estimated for the economy as a whole, estimated at between 1-2 per cent per year. This illustrates the potential for green growth as driven by climate targets.

As the economy recovers from the effects of COVID-19, this could give rise to a greener global future, accelerating investment and innovation in the UK low carbon sector. The LGA Green Jobs report (2020) found that in 2018 there were 185,000 full-time workers in England’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy. In 2030 across England there could be as many as 694,000 direct jobs employed in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy, rising to over 1.18 million by 2050.

Whole house retrofit aims to improve the energy efficiency of a property. This includes improving the 'building fabric' (walls, windows, floors and roofs), the heating system and installing renewable energy where possible, such as heat pumps and solar panels. The UK’s housing stock will need to be carbon neutral by 2050 to meet the net-zero targets and all councils are working hard to retrofit their stock while also developing skills in the sector.

David Pierpoint Founder and CEO at The Retrofit Academy CIC, The National Centre of Excellence for Retrofit was introduced as the first guest speaker.

David began by explaining that the Retrofit Academy is a community interest group based in Staffordshire. Without addressing the housing stock we cannot make a significant dent in carbon reduction targets, and to deliver 27 million retrofits over the next 30 years in the UK, we need an army of retrofitters in both white and blue collar roles. The retrofit academy’s mission is to enable this through shaping retrofit best practice, sharing their technical expertise with industry peers, and advancing the sector through their Centre of Excellence.

David highlighted two main supply chain challenges local authorities face when retrofitting:

  1. Capability, councils don’t have the capability for a task of this size as there are not enough skills in the sector or local area to draw on.
  2. Capacity, due to the lack of skills, there is not enough capacity to retrofit housing to meet the current or future demand.

David went on to briefly explain a robust framework for retrofit which has been produced by The British Standards Institution (BSI), PAS 2035. This introduces six roles needed in the retrofit supply chain, these are new roles we need to create and recruit for:

  • Retrofit Advisor
  • Retrofit Evaluator
  • Retrofit Coordinator
  • Retrofit Assessor
  • Retrofit Designer
  • Retrofit Installer

The Retrofit Academy has led the way on coordinator training, including 1300 learners, 480 graduates and 320 accredited coordinators. However, as mentioned, we need around 30,000 to meet the targets and so there is still lots to be done. To get there, David expanded on the importance of collaboration with a vision to have A Retrofit Academy in every major region and city operating under license to:

  • support Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE) institutions to train the army of retrofitters we need
  • develop teaching capability and building teaching capacity
  • provide teaching and assessment support centrally to reduce the barriers to training provision.

David emphasised the suite of regulatory qualifications the Retrofit Academy provides which by the end of 2021 will include Level 2, 3, 4, and 5 awards.

Following this, David briefly touched on a number of case studies demonstrating how the Retrofit Academy have been working with local authorities to date. More details can be found on the presentation slides and include…

  • BEIS Green Homes Grant Skills Competition.
    • Funding to train 250 retrofit coordinators, 90 per cent have graduated and gone into jobs to career enhancement.
  • Devon County Council and The Retrofit Academy
    • A £1m Community Renewal Fund Project which will engage Local Colleges and Universities in a Train the Trainer project to jointly develop a new qualification and ensure the legacy of local retrofit training infrastructure.
  • Midlands Local Authorities
    • All 64 local authorities joined the Retrofit Academy Centre of Excellence, this work was supported by the Midlands Energy Hub.

Next, Hannah Jameson from the London Borough of Lambeth and Pippa Palmer from London South Bank University were introduced to talk about their research findings as part of the LGA and UCL Net Zero Innovation Programme. You can also read the full case study of their project.

As part of the Net Zero Innovation Programme, Hannah and Pippa aimed to better understand the local retrofit supply chain and workforce, looking at how ready we are to really start with retrofit.  

Lambeth is grappling with a variety of challenges and is projected by the end of the year to have some of the highest unemployment numbers. Their research found the barriers which need to be addressed with regards to retrofit skills and the strategic role needed to be played by the council with their presentation focussing on one strand of their research: social housing findings.

Pippa explained the project and did not look at skills in isolation, but instead at the whole ecosystem around retrofit and how markets perceive and engage in retrofit. This built on an existing research such as the CEREB Framework which identifies the five pillars of successful retrofit programmes and is a really useful framework for local authorities looking to design retrofit programmes which are effective. A helpful video shared describes this in more detail.

The market is very distinctly separated into two segments, defined by who is the first mover. A channel strategy is a vendor's plan for moving a product or service through the chain of commerce to the end customer. On the left, are local authorities (social landlords) and publicly procured housing. These are public programmes and are procured through a strategic procurement method and they have established a standard and a channel strategy which you would use for new build, including an established workforce, albeit without the skills needed specifically for retrofitting. On the right, we have private landlords and privately purchased housing. Buying singly, the market is immature and not self-forming when people want to purchase solar panels or heat pumps etc. and so there is no clear pathway to do so. You can’t find trades people easily on this side, but further results are still being analysed.

To carry out this work, the team held extensive stakeholder interviews and ran a workshop to capture a sense of where we already are on retrofit skills. Resulting from this was a strong desire for clarity, capacity and collaboration, with phrases such as “we’re in a pilot phase” coming up frequently and acknowledgement that local authorities were fighting competing demands and a lot of change. With retrofit being the most complicated engineering challenge in the race to net zero, the materials, techniques, planning and implementation is all very new. Housing associations are dealing with things which were not even on the strategic plan 3-5 years ago and now is at the forefront so they are planning for a long-term strategic game, “when it comes to retrofit, we can’t be in competition”.

So far, the research has resulted in four recommendations:

1. Setting the standard.

For Local authorities to deliver their vision they should put retrofit on a par with new builds and state the goals. This all feeds through to the system in procurement and skills.

2. Housing association support and capacity building.

There is a huge need for this to help build internal and external skills, as this is not something they have done before. They also need help to access funding which Local authorities can unlock on short timelines and with improvements to the application process. Capacity building is also really important here and housing associations want sector collaboration which is key to learning and sharing knowledge.

3. Green jobs and citizen engagement

Councils need to shape the vision and showcase exemplars. Helping citizens with their forward planning, shaping hearts and minds and engaging and understanding how to live and work in a zero-carbon area are all good ways to engage with citizens. With green jobs and skills, you can leverage spend to create confidence and certainty, set standards through procurements, generate long term skills and pathways with a trained workforce. There is a constant tension between skills shortage and costing parameters, Local authorities have a huge role to play in ensuring this workforce.

4. Delivering optimised retrofit programmes.

Hannah spoke about the route to retrofit in Lambeth. As a council they recognise the role to play in certainty. Doing it in a way we can share learning with other social housing providers is an important way we can help others to make fast progress.

The webinar's final speaker, David Gleave from Test Valley Borough Council, gave a short verbal presentation about his personal journey having taken part in the LGA Leading and Learning Creating Green Jobs Programme.

The borough of Test Valley is in West Hampshire, Central South England, and like many areas is generally prosperous but with pockets of deprivation. As an Economic Development Officer, David’s role has focused on practical business support rather than physical regeneration. David volunteered to take part in the LGA programme to understand how practical business support links into the climate emergency and green agenda, having previously thought most of the reductions in emissions would come from just businesses.

For the LGA action learning sets as part of the support programme, David’s challenge was to look at support skills training for businesses in carbon reduction activity. As the weeks went by, firstly after a seminar in April and after speaking to local trades people in the borough, the challenge was refined to supporting skills training for making homes more energy efficient.

To address this challenge David then set about understanding the landscape and noticed that there is no obvious place to find out what is happening on retrofit locally, and so he reached out to half a dozen local private businesses, the Local Enterprise Partnership, Home Builders Federation, Chamber of Commerce, FE colleges, private training providers and local government colleagues amongst others. David had imagined there would have been an existing web connecting these agencies together but the domestic housing green jobs market at this time was fragmented and uncoordinated.

David reflected on a green jobs panel webinar back in April 2021 which provided a revelation as one speaker compared where we are now on green jobs, retrofitting, low carbon heating etc. to proposals for delivering superfast broadband 10 years ago. Looking back 10 years ago we didn’t know who was doing what to achieve government targets on broadband, but today we have achieved 95%+ super-fast coverage in the county super-fast partnerships.

The local partnership to David is Hampshire super-fast broadband which shares learning, information and best practice among businesses, public agencies, educational facilities and customers. David suggests local authorities should look at establishing County or Unitary level Green Jobs Hubs to connect together the local areas and organisations working on these programmes and projects.