The first report has been published on the skills needed for Green Deal retrofits, and Mark Farrar explains what this means for SMEs

The launch of the Green Deal consultation by the Department of Energy and Climate Change last month was a welcome step towards greater clarity about the scheme, but on a practical level there are currently more questions than answers for small and medium (SME) contractors.

The government has set the ambitious target of reducing the UK’s CO2 output by 80% by 2050 - as an industry we will have to retrofit 13,000 homes a week once the Green Deal is underway. This is a huge challenge and while construction firms wait for greater clarity on the qualifications required to win Green Deal work, contractors need to know what practical skills they will need to carry out a typical Green Deal project.

There is a key role for SMEs that can market the benefits of low carbon retrofit work to customers

The new report Delivering Low Carbon Skills in Wales: Retrofit Learning gives industry this information, for the first time.

This fascinating piece of research - carried out by BRE for the Green Deal Skills Alliance (made up of CITB-ConstructionSkills, SummitSkills and AssetSkills) - was conducted to identify and enable response to the future skills needs for low carbon retrofit projects. The project saw 50 social homes in Wales retrofitted with energy saving technology including internal, external and roof insulation, micro-generation, and other general air-tightness measures.

On a practical level the research found that management and customer service skills were critical to making a retrofit run smoothly. There were often problems caused by the different tradesmen needing access to the same areas of the property at the same time, so planning will be key to avoid time being wasted in future projects.

The report looked into the number of man hours each stage of the retrofit required. Interestingly while it took an average of 47 man hours to fit external wall insulation to a house, fitting rendering on top of the insulation, to get the appearance of the house up to a good standard took 125 man hours. Given that rendering will have to be carried out by insulation fitters, it is clear firms can get ahead of the game by acquiring these skills ahead of the Green Deal.

There is a demand, it was found, for contractors with cross disciplinary skills for energy efficiency, such as those that can fit wall insulation and can also perform pipe cladding work. And also highlighted is that homeowners want to have greater knowledge on how to maintain their retrofitted houses. There is a key role for SME contractors here - those that can competently market the benefits of low carbon retrofit work to potential customers, and can also offer guidance on getting the most benefit out of the retrofit, stand in good stead to win work.

As businesses await clarity on obtaining the Green Deal qualifications that will be critical for winning work through the scheme, astute contractors can prepare now to make sure that they have had the training and put the skills in place that will enable them to become qualified in 2012. The time to prepare for the future is now.

SMEs can keep up to date with Green Deal news and access low carbon construction information and guidance at Delivering Low Carbon Skills in Wales: Retrofit Learning is available for download at

Mark Farrar is chief executive of CITB-ConstructionSkills