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Green skills needed for all construction jobs

By Tim Balcon, Chief Executive of CITB.

We all know the size and scale of the challenge when it comes to climate change.

Globally, progress on climate action has not been anywhere near fast enough. The coronavirus pandemic led to a historic drop in global emissions last year, but it will be a glaring anomaly unless big changes are made.

Governments across the UK have committed to hit net zero emissions by 2050 (2045 in Scotland) but we have yet to work out the detail on how we get there.

We all expect retrofit to be part of the solution. UK homes are some of the most energy inefficient in Europe, responsible for nearly a quarter of our total emissions. According to the Climate Change Committee, we need to spend £45 billion over the next 15 years to retrofit our homes.

This figure is way beyond existing commitments, including the Government’s recently published Net Zero Strategy. However, that strategy does set us clearly on the path for change. It outlines changes to performance, standards and funding so that we can stop relying on polluting fossil fuels like coal and gas.

The Construction Leadership Council in England has called on the UK government to produce a national retrofit strategy, with similar calls made in Wales and Scotland where the COP 26 summit is currently being held. 


Tim Balcon, Chief Executive, CITB

At CITB, we are in the business of skills and training, and this will play a big role in getting us to where we need to be. It’s clear we need a national skills policy that reflects the climate emergency, and we certainly don’t have that at the moment.

For me, it is inconceivable that any individual undertaking learning in the construction sector should finish their studies and training without a pre-determined minimum level of understanding of climate change and how their skills contribute to net zero.

There are some companies who are ahead of the game, building for the future, decarbonising their operations and upskilling their workforces. They are making changes they know to be right. The construction sector should build a skills system around these early adopters as the most efficient way of bringing everyone up to speed.

Earlier this year, CITB published our Building Skills for Net Zero research. It said that to deliver on our net zero aims, 350,000 new roles will need to be created in the construction industry. Our research concludes that net zero UK construction can be achieved by 2050, but will need radical changes to skills development and deployment, at speed and at scale.

It will take all of us – colleges, employers, federations, government, and the construction industry – working together to get the skills, knowledge and experience we need.

For governments, the focus has to be on a pipeline of work needed to give employers confidence to invest in new skills. This must be supported by a planned and funded skills plan.

For the training sector, there is a need to work closely with the construction industry and government to ensure qualifications and training are net zero-ready.

For industry, we must share good practice and support those who are unsure how to play their part. We need to support employers to invest in the right green training. And industry will need to work more collaboratively to change its culture so we can attract more diverse entrants.

CITB has a clear role to play in this change. We have to support employers so that their demand for skills is matched with a system that can deliver a green-skilled workforce. We are trying to take a phased approach to this although the pace needs to pick up. We are putting together the evidence we need to make the right choices and putting in place the foundations on which a skills system is rebuilt.

It’s a big challenge, but one that can be met if we work together. It will be worth it so we can create a safe and prosperous future for our children and grandchildren.

My early reflections on the CITB I lead – Tim Balcon

It’s been nearly two months since I became Chief Executive of CITB and I have spent this time listening, observing, and seeking to understand the needs of colleagues, customers and partners alike. 

There are not many chief executives who have the chance to come into post immediately after the organisation has undertaken major engagement with its key stakeholders, meaning I have access to live feedback about how my business is seen to be performing. I am taking the chance to digest this and have conversations to really understand the issues and challenges that have informed the views provided.

I am considering all this feedback in relation to the big picture, which is moving fast, to assess how CITB can meet the needs of the industry, post-Brexit and post-pandemic.

Tim Balcon, CITB CEO

Training for the future

It’s not surprised me that Net Zerodigitisation and modern methods of construction (External link – Opens in a new tab or window) all appear high on everyone’s radar, but very low on list for training needs. Training for future needs is never an easy thing to do, but it is essential.

The demand for training is not as high as it was before the pandemic, despite the speed at which the construction industry is recovering and the urgency for skilled labour to deliver the work that is coming forward.

UK construction faces huge, short, and long-term challenges, and it is important that both are addressed and supported.

Evolving CITB

I am proud to say I have a good team in place at CITB and I have been impressed by the level of dedication shown so far – all are committed to lessening the skills gap for the construction industry and are working hard to deliver the multitude of initiatives that are underway to do so. Whether they are the right initiatives is another question though.

One thing I have consistently heard is that CITB does lots of things and I have seen that myself. For some though they say we do too much and even question whether we are focussing on the right things.

I really can see how this viewpoint has been reached and it’s one to address, as what CITB should be doing depends on who you ask.

CITB has three primary customers: GovernmentLevy Payers and the wider construction industry – and the depth of the needs of these are vast. Construction is one of the broadest industries, covering many different areas, so there are a multitude of lenses that the skills problem can be viewed through, and we currently provide training and recruitment solutions for a vast majority of them.

Closing the skills gap

However, if there is one thing everyone is agreed and committed to is the need to minimise the skills gap and establish a skills system that can meet employers’ short and long-term needs. The dissonance lies in the ‘how’ to do this.

The long and the short is that the construction industry does not have the skills to meet immediate demand efficiently, nor does it have the pipeline of skills to meet future demand at the rate needed.

“So, isn’t that the job of CITB?” I hear you say. Well yes, to a point, but CITB is one of many players in this arena, all of whom have a role to play – the careers service (External link – Opens in a new tab or window), employers themselves, apprenticeship providers (External link – Opens in a new tab or window) and Government, to name but a few.

And from what I have seen so far, CITB is certainly playing its part – last year alone, amongst other support, we:

But it is not lost on me that this alone is not going to solve the skills problem. Some employers are seeking support for training activity not supported by the grant funding CITB currently provides. There will always be boundaries for what the grant will support, but it is important that we are funding the right things, which is why we will be taking a fresh look at this over the next period.

Simplifying training routes

However, I cannot gloss over the fact that the feedback has told me that accessing training is not made easy – training availability and the different options are really complicated to understand and then funding is even more difficult to access.

So, while I would argue that it’s not CITB’s job to create the demand in the first place, we have a role to ensure that any business seeking training gets the support it needs. I have no doubt we have some work to do here, and this is something I am keen to address quickly.

My early days have certainly highlighted some key areas for attention. Focus and simplification are two words I am using repeatedly.

Making CITB more accessible

We are going to clarify our purpose and offer, which in turn will help to manage expectations and ensure a more focussed dialogue with the construction industry about the specific issues we need to address going forward.

Simplifying our processes to make it easier to access our products and services is an immediate challenge I have set my team, including making our communications more customer focussed. You will start to see some improvements in the coming months.

These are all changes I can make that are within my immediate control. Solving the wider skills gap however needs a collegiate approach, which is why my other focus is on bringing together the construction industry, so we work closer with our stakeholders to identify the current and future issues, develop solutions together and share learning – through this we will be able to do more and have a deeper impact.

As I head into my third month, I am determined that the CITB I lead will be one that is focussed and ready for the challenge, finding solutions that make a tangible difference to the future of the construction industry and effectively working with its partners to make a sustainable difference for the short and long-term issues we are presented with.

Tim Balcon, CITB CEO



For more information contact me at chris.wiley@skills4site,com or telephone 01767 315269