Retrofitting for the right future

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When devising traineeship programmes to fill skills gaps, particularly within the Construction sector, I like to get under the skin of what’s really going on in the industry and truly get to grips with the ever-growing needs of our employer partners. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of doing just that by attending the Decarbonising Construction in Social Housing’ event with RE:GEN Group’s Lee Francis, Kirsten Cox, Brian Bedford & Mina Cole, hosted by Constructing Excellence in the North East and Smart Carbon. To say it was eye opening would be a serious understatement.

Did you know that more carbon emissions are produced from UK houses than all the cars on the road combined? To keep the country on track to meet it’s 2050 carbon Net Zero goal, major housing decarbonisation needs to take place- including the nearly 3 million homes owned by Housing Associations.

Decarbonisation of homes is already an issue that many Social Housing Associations are working on. In fact, by 2050 the sector plans to invest £70bn into making upgrades that will help to lessen the amount of carbon produced by their homes. This includes things like fitting decarbonising heating and cooling systems and better insulating their properties to improve energy efficiency.

Social Housing Associations and Providers are uniquely placed in the climate discussion as they already have a deep commitment to the long-term sustainability of their homes and the communities in which they serve. In amongst the event’s discussion panel was a strong and diverse representation of Social Housing, all of whom shared a deep passion to bring us together in one room to share in the good, the bad and, let’s face it, the ugly of what’s to come. On the panel was Nik Turner (Executive Director of Communities & Customer Services at Believe Housing), Paul Jenkins (Executive Director or Assets at Thirteen Group), Russel Urwin (Principal Consultant at Turner & Townsend) and Tracy Harrison (CEO of Northern Housing Consortium), a fantastic group of expertise who really drove the conversations forward, and allowed us to explore and agree the necessary steps we must take to move forward.

My role in the climate discussion as MD within RE:geon is to help find new ways to better prepare the future workforces that will support social housing providers and their contractors in this mission, as well as ensuring that I have the knowledge and capability available to bid for the next waves of funding. So, following the event, when it comes to decarbonising construction, what did I learn?

1. This is no longer a top-down approach

Gone are the days when Contractors and supply chain would wait for their clients to initiate change. Decarbonisation is an entirely new beast, and the need for proactivity over of reactivity is paramount. Covered during his presentation as a guest speaker, Lee Francis highlighted that in order for us to get close to achieving our goals it’s “RE:THINKING” our strategy and taking a cross industry approach. (We’re all in the same boat!)

2. Engagement is Essential

Firstly with supply chain. With the extensive supply chain structures that we see in the Construction industry, having all stakeholders on board will determine how successful we are as a whole in our decarbonisation journey. Data is so important as we look to measure like we’ve never measured before and without having a holistic view on what everyone’s doing, it really will be the blind leading the blind.

Secondly, with tenants. In some retrofit projects, it’s been reported that as many as 40% of tenants have refused works when offered retrofit solutions or improvements, while others have withdrawn from the process mid-project. Often, this is because of a lack of engagement or understanding and if this is the case, the onus is on us to find new ways to bring those tenants along the journey. Most notably for me that sits with the correct training and development of the future workforces who will possess the skills to effectively communicate and guide customers on the ground.

3. The way we work must adapt 

With the introduction of the PAS 2035 Framework and the new roles that fall within that, our BUILD UP traineeships can no longer focus solely on the typical blue- and white-collar roles within Construction. Adaptability and Versatility are two major skillsets that will pave the way for decarbonisation and retrofit. They are two skills I need to focus on teaching our learners but most importantly we need to find ways to embody them ourselves in order to set the right tone for the future. As Nik Turner, so wonderfully put, if she’s got to cut the plugs of all printers throughout Believe then that’s what’s got to be done! And I second her decisiveness and drive to take immediate action. It’s a cut throat approach that will create a real shift across our industries (no matter how drastic it may sound! – sorry printers!)

This. approach goes a long way for how we look to deliver training too. There’s a huge responsibility brewing for FE to get it right by identifying new and innovative ways to train. A challenge my team and I are absolutely geared up for! Especially with our latest recruitment intake.

4. It’s far from easy!

Whilst we’d like to think the path to Net Zero ran in parallel with the yellow brick road, unfortunately there’s a lot more twists, turns and quite frankly, potholes, that we need to address first. Lee did a fantastic job of sharing RE:GEN’s own experiences of this so far with regards to mapping out the Group’s carbon journey in collaboration with Lee Jackson & his team at Smart Carbon. Lee’s openness to the challenges we have faced is hopefully something everyone took away from the session along with Smart Carbon’s willingness to adapt their processes and modelling to better serve the needs of the industry as we all move closer to our goal. So no, it’s not easy. But when has anything worthwhile ever been? It’s far from easy. But it’s absolutely the right thing to do.

5. We can only do this if we all do it together.

Never before has there been a greater need to work collaboratively as one team with one goal and one vision. But to do that we need to be communicating better not just within our own organisations but externally too. Protecting our people, our planet (and not forgetting our profits) has become THE greatest mission we will face as business owners and when XXX Tracy Harrison put it to the room, unanimously it was felt that communication is single handily THE most important thing to drive us forward.

Although there’s many mountains for us to climb within the world of Construction, I can only look to the future with optimism in what I believe we can, and will achieve as a collective. Our region is lucky to be filled with so many inspirational figures within Social Housing and Construction, many of whom I had the pleasure of speaking with on Tuesday. If that doesn’t give me hope for what the future holds, then I don’t know what will.

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