Scotland has responded to the climate emergency with a legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045 – the most ambitious timeline not just of any part of the UK, but in the world. With 40% of total emissions coming from construction and the built environment across the UK, the construction industry is crucial in helping Scottish Government and partners to meet net zero ambitions. With the need to build to new specifications, transform existing buildings, and employ modern methods of construction, the skills required to deliver the rapid and wide-ranging changes presents a significant challenge – and also an opportunity.
While Covid-19 has resulted in a short-term shift in how we work, the climate emergency will be one of the biggest drivers of economic, political, and social change in the 21st century. For such a transformation, making all the right noises before returning to business as usual will not be enough. Instead, for the construction and built environment sector to play a leading role in supporting Scotland to meet its net zero target, there must be a revolutionary investment in skills, far-reaching skills policy reform, and an unprecedented recruitment drive in the industry.
New research from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) demonstrates that net zero demands must be met with supply of a pipeline of work and the skills of the construction workforce. An additional 22,500 FTE workers will be needed in Scotland by 2028, mainly in delivering improvements to existing buildings that will reduce energy demand – an increase of around 9% of the current size of the workforce. This is because, although impressive and wide-ranging, there are shortfalls in construction skills in Scotland in energy efficiency retrofit work on traditional buildings; in plumbers and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning workers; and in project managers at a time when Scotland has just 24 years to transform how it builds new homes, heats its housing stock, and upgrades its buildings.
Achieving net zero in Scotland therefore requires action now, with a clear plan not just for how to build our homes, but also how to build our skill sets. This is because no sector can do it alone, public or private, Scottish Government or SME. Instead, the construction sector, education institutions and government must work together to ensure that our education and training is responsive to emerging skills requirements and the needs of employers. Employers must be able to deliver a clear pipeline of work developed in partnership with government at all levels, which has, in turn, given them the confidence to invest in new skills for their workforce.
In the year that COP26 will take place in Glasgow, there is an opportunity for local government to follow the leadership of Scottish Government in its development of the Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan 2020-2025. While there are formal, standalone opportunities to show leadership such as through UK100, we know local government can also show strategic leadership through delivering on national net zero ambitions with local plans and opportunities. Councils and their partners can lead the change locally, for example, by mapping the skills and training offered at local education institutions with the opportunities afforded by local housing strategies, Local Outcome Improvement Plans, and Local Place Plans. Local government can help to achieve national net zero goals by investing its resources in the retrofit of key assets in communities; being ambitious and carbon-conscious in its plans for new developments; and commit to training its own workforce to help address the climate emergency.
Collaboration is key, to meet challenge with opportunity, to meet demand with supply. For its part, CITB will work with the Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Government and local government to ensure that construction apprenticeships standards and pathways from Further Education into the sector meet the needs of both local industry and national net zero targets. CITB will support central and local government, education providers, and industry to build skills for net zero.