14 April 2021
2050 environmental targets will require 350,000 more construction workers

A new report has estimated that 350,000 new construction jobs will need to be created in order to meet the government’s net zero ambitions. The built environment is responsible for a huge proportion of our country’s carbon emissions, making eco-friendly building methods hugely important going forwards. However, given that around 80% of the buildings expected to be in use by 2050 have already been constructed, most of these workers will be needed to retrofit the 27 million domestic and two million non-domestic buildings that were perhaps not built with energy efficiency as a top priority.  

The report, entitled Building Skills for Net Zero and released by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), estimated that an additional 86,000 construction project managers, 59,000 plumbers and HVAC specialists, and 33,000 building envelope specialists will be needed by 2028 to undertake the necessary decarbonisation work.

Where did these figures come from?

The CITB made its calculations based on the skills that will be needed to successfully support the decarbonisation effort, with support from figures from the Climate Change Committee (CCC). It then compared these figures with the skills profile of today’s construction workforce. With thousands facing unemployment and needing to reskill after losing their job due to the coronavirus pandemic, this could be the perfect time to entice more candidates into the construction industry, the report concludes.

The training revolution

Changing the way we train construction workers is essential to meeting net zero targets, said the report, with the CITB making a series of recommendations for how this may be achieved. These include (but are not limited to):

  1. Government and industry should work together to identify current skills gaps, and introduce training programmes and qualifications that fill these gaps.
  2. A net-zero training course should be developed to enhance understanding of low-carbon technologies and approaches.
  3. Modern teaching platforms such as apps and videos should be employed to better appeal to the next generation.
  4. Training and support programmes should be developed to assist householders in carrying out their own retrofitting and energy efficiency improvements, using a cooperative approach.
  5. The reputation of the construction sector as a whole must be improved in order for there to be a big enough talent pool to draw upon. Currently, not enough young people aspire to enter the construction industry.
  6. The government should provide clarity on its chosen decarbonisation pathway as soon as possible; this will enable businesses to take a long-term view of the training, technologies and approaches they’ll need.

If we look more closely at some of these recommendations, two clear themes emerge. The first is the need to actually create the training programmes that will be needed to close the current skills gap. The second is that, even if the requisite training programmes were in place right now, not enough young people are interested in a career within the construction sector.

The fight to attract new talent

Poor perceptions of the construction sector and the challenge of attracting the best young talent into the industry have been demonstrated across multiple studies and surveys in recent years. A 2019 study by housing association and developer L&Q revealed that less than 10% of 16 to 18-year-olds would consider a career in construction, with the sector branded as “challenging and unexciting” by respondents.

That said, industry is fighting back with gusto, with its own campaigns to raise the profile and appeal of construction careers. In September 2018, the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) ran a social media campaign with the hashtag #iloveconstruction. Encouraging companies, suppliers and clients alike to join in, it promoted the importance of reaching out to young people in a way that inspires and appeals to them, i.e. through engaging content and imagery that shows construction in a positive and inspiring light.

A unique opportunity

The coronavirus crisis has had a huge impact on the labour markets, leaving many industries on their knees. Many people will have to bite the bullet and reskill in order to thrive in the post-lockdown world. As the CITB report highlights, this provides a unique opportunity to attract  and train the hundreds of thousands of new workers who will be required to make the government’s ambitious zero-carbon target a reality by 2050.