Report finds firms unwilling to plug skills gaps until consumer demand for energy scheme is proven

Construction firms are reluctant to invest in training for the high level building skills required to deliver the government’s flagship energy efficiency scheme, leading to worries over a skills gap, a new report has found.

The report by skills bodies CITB-ConstructionSkills, SummitSkills and Asset Skills said construction firms were reluctant to invest in training to plug skills gaps until consumer demand, through the government’s flagship Green Deal energy efficiency scheme, had been proven.

The report found that while there were good generic skills in the industry, there was a need for more knowledge of the overall energy efficiency system in a building and skills to understand how different aspects are linked together.  

The report also highlighted that understanding of biomass, combined heat and power and small scale wind energy was lacking in over 40% of the workforce. It added that understanding of how the Green Deal worked, such as the financing, was also lacking.

Steve Geary, skills strategy director at ConstructionSkills, said: “If you take the small and medium size businesses they are struggling to survive and a lot of firms have been going to the wall in the last few years.

“Therefore investment in training has been tailing off during the recession and people have to really see the business opportunity before making that investment.”

Geary added there could be problems in meeting demand if the uptake of the Green Deal by consumers proved to be quicker than expected.

Sustainability expert David Strong said: “There’s a serious chicken and egg problem in that companies are not going to invest significantly until they know the demand is going to be there.”

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, added that the results showed the government needed robust long term incentives in place to ensure small and medium enterprises had the confidence to invest.

The report came as the government announced it will put up £3.5m to train 1,000 Green Deal apprentices in preparation the launch of the scheme.

The money will be used to train professionals in the construction industry in assessing the energy efficiency of homes and installing insulation. The government will fund £3m and CITB ConstructionSkills will contribute a further £500,000 of funding.

Ed Davey, energy secretary, said: “We have worked hand in hand with industry to get this right and are targeting funding at the areas where there is an urgent need as well as a clear demand.

“We hope this will encourage businesses across the country to fully prepare their staff for the launch of the Green Deal later this year.”

Andrew Warren, director of the Association of the Conservation of Energy, said: “Delivering the ambitious goals that the Government is targeting from the Green Deal necessitates a step change in the numbers of people employed, as well as the skills required.”

The government also announced it will be running a competition from May this year for £10m of funding to pilot innovative energy efficiency measures.

Green Deal skills deficit:

  • Firms reluctant to invest in skills until consumer demand is proven
  • Lack of skills in understanding energy performance of whole building
  • Little understanding of Green Deal details
  • Nearly half workforce little understanding of renewables