From education to employment

What happens if we don’t reach net zero by 2050?

Andy Rayner

To enable us to meet Net Zero we need to transform the way we build, but the UK construction sector is poorly equipped to meet this need. The FE sector working with construction now needs to utilise Apprenticeships to develop the Next Generation Workforce with the capability to make these changes. 

Whilst sitting on a train thinking how to position this piece I Googled ‘What happens if we don’t reach net zero by 2050?’ Now I know that can be a dangerous thing to do and to be honest I think many of us try to avoid thinking about it so if you don’t want to know the answer then skip the words in italics but if you do then we will be facing wildfires, droughts, floods, crop failure, famine, mass migration and the worldwide destruction of ecosystems, communities and wildlife.

I know, it is genuinely terrifying.

I have worked in and around the UK construction sector pretty much since leaving school and as a sector, we have an awful lot of work to do to play our part in the drive towards net zero. The reality is that the built environment generates 40% of annual global CO2 emissions. Of those total emissions, building operations are responsible for 27%, while building and infrastructure materials and construction are responsible for an additional 13%. Putting it simply, we have to change the way we construct all of our buildings if we want to achieve net zero. Even this won’t be enough as it is estimated that 80% of the homes we will use in 2050 have already been built and are generating much of today’s carbon – we, therefore, need to also retrofit those buildings to be carbon friendly, estimated at around 25 million homes. 

So why am I banging on about this on a site dedicated to Further Education? Well, this is as much a challenge for the Education sector as it is for the Construction sector.

Construction Sector Challenge

We are all aware that the UK construction sector is not terribly diverse with 85% of the workforce being male and 32% aged over 50. If you look at those actually working on construction sites then the numbers are even less diverse with 98% being male. This makeup of the sector has been relatively unchanged for decades.

The second point to note though is that this non-diverse workforce is in relatively short supply. Skills shortages in construction have been a major challenge for some time and there simply aren’t enough skilled construction workers to meet the current required output with the government repeatedly missing its house building targets. Many people reading this will be only too well aware of the challenges of getting good reliable tradesmen to even turn up let alone do some work.

Finally, this workforce is poorly equipped to manage change and modernise, according to the recent Future.Now Digital Skills Gap report out of all the workplace sectors in the UK construction has the second lowest level of digital capability, second only to agriculture.

We have a clear and present need to change the way we construct and use buildings in the UK.  Failure to do so has implications that most of us don’t even want to contemplate. In situ to do this we have a non-diverse traditional ageing workforce who all have more than enough work to do and who are making good money doing what they know and understand and are poorly equipped to make the changes needed.

Much of the discussion around the construction workforce has been around how the sector needs to do a better job of attracting young people to the sector. This is undoubtedly true currently less than 10% of the workforce are aged under 25 and in the recent City and Guilds Youth Misspent report only 6% of young people expressed an interest in working in construction. The Construction Industry Training Board has estimated that an extra 225,000 construction workers may be needed by 2027 just to meet current needs but at the moment there are only 26,000 people on construction Apprenticeships and experience suggests that only around a half of these will end up working in construction.

In these challenges lies the answer

The time is right to develop a new workforce for UK construction a more diverse Next Generation workforce equipped with the knowledge, skills, and behaviours needed to transform UK construction and to remove carbon from the built environment.

We should not consider this Next Generation as just about people’s ages. It is much more than that. This will be a generation of people who have developed the knowledge skills and behaviours that will enable them to transform UK construction. Now it is fair to say that a large number of this workforce will come from the younger generation attracted to the sector to bring about the changes needed. Bringing with them digital and data skills, the creative and innovative thinking that the sector critically needs. But many of this Next Generation workforce will come from people already working in the sector learning new skills like digital and data. It is the opportunity for a great symbiotic relationship with the current workforce passing on their traditional skills and learning new digital ones and younger people passing on digital skills and learning digital ones for the first time.

Where does the FE sector come in?

Yes, you have guessed it right. There is a fair old bit of training to be done.

We believe that Apprenticeships are the perfect vehicle for training this Next Generation workforce. The Apprenticeship programmes are designed to do two things

1) help people coming out of education to get into work

2) help those already in work to learn new skills to equip them to work in the modern construction sector.

At Travis Perkins plc, we have been working on this approach for several years. Starting with our own colleagues and working with partner organisations such as Multiverse and Future. Now we have already trained over a thousand of our colleagues through our Apprenticeship programmes to become part of this Next Generation workforce. This workforce is already bringing us more diverse thinking with nearly 40% of our Apprentices being female and the majority being under 30. They are starting to help us see our business and the wider construction sector through a different lens.

I am not saying it is all sunshine and roses, we are facing a lot of challenges but we are starting to feel the difference. We are now broadening our approach through our LEAP Apprenticeship & Early Careers programmes and working to develop colleagues from other organisations doing similar work to ourselves as well as working with those both upstream and downstream in our supply chain.

Time to collaborate

It is this spirit of collaboration that really needs to be nurtured throughout the construction sector. The Construction Leadership Council is already leading the way with its vision to “Lead a new era of delivery in the Built Environment and Successfully manage the sector’s transition to Net Zero.” 

We all, the Construction sector and the Further Education sector now need to move the focus from worrying about the skills gap and start to drive the development of this Next Generation workforce and allow them the opportunity to influence the way we build and the way we use our buildings. Only then will we have a good chance to successfully remove carbon from the built environment. If we don’t then wildfires, droughts, floods, crop failure, famine, mass migration, and the worldwide destruction of ecosystems, communities, and wildlife await us all.

By Andy Rayner, Director of Apprenticeships and Early Careers at the Travis Perkins Group

Andy Rayner is the Director of Apprenticeships and Early Careers at the Travis Perkins Group the UK’s largest distributor of building materials. Andy has spent the majority of his career in the construction supply sector in a number of roles but his passion has always been in helping people to grow and develop.

Since the introduction of the Apprenticeship levy Andy’s team have built an award winning programme that is using Apprenticeships to start to address two of the key strategic challenges across UK construction. The programme is bringing diverse talent into the sector addressing the skills shortage and in doing so is starting to prepare the sector for the challenge of net zero construction. A team of colleagues that Andy describes as the Next Generation Workforce.

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