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Understanding skills demand within domestic energy

To acheive the 2050 Net Zero targets, the UK must decarbonise the heating market at a rate of 20,000 homes per week by 2025. This presents a significant skills challenge to solve in terms of scale, pace and quality. This skills needs assessments aims to explore the opportunities this presents for the region. 

Low skill, low productivity sector

Domestic Retrofit and the construction industry is in need of transformation.

High quality training is urgently required

Domestric retrofit training is currentlly manufacturing-led, FE colleages are gearing up to meet new demand.

Transferrable skills

are integral to develop the skilled workers required.

Specific skills shortages

include installers, digital skills, and public procurement. 

The Domestic Retrofit Skills Challenge

In 2019, the UK government became the first major economy to legally commit to reducing carbon emissions.  In October 2021, the Heat and Buildings Strategy set out the government's vision for a greener future and the pathway to transition to high efficiency, low carbon buildings. 

The National Energy Policy on carbon emission abatement has been a driving factor shaping policy at a local level.  The Heat and Buildings Strategy further emphasises the need to take account of individual, local and regional circumstances when making the transition to low carbon buildings. Local Authorities across the North East, and Yorkshire regions have demonstrating their strong commitment to this agenda by declaring climate emergencies. 

The scale of the challenge is vast. There are 24 million homes that require domestic retrofit.   To achieve the 2050 targets, the UK must decarbonise the heating market at a rate of 20,000 homes per week by 2025. The current rate is 20,000 homes per year. The UK has one of the worst energy efficiency ratings in Europe with an older housing stock that is insufficiently insulated.

There are significant social and economic opportunities too that could be gained. 
This challenge, if met, presents a significant economic and social opportunity for UK regions, potentially generating business growth and innovation and creating 240,000 skilled green jobs by 2035.  The transition to low carbon, energy efficient homes has the potential of significantly reducing fuel poverty and thereby health inequalities.  

The development of skills required to deliver net zero by 2050 remains the biggest problem to solve in terms of scale, pace, and quality.  Business-As-Usual models will not work.

About the project

In response to these skills challenges and opportunities identified, the North East LEP alongside the North East and Yorkshire Energy Hub Board commissioned a skills needs assessment of domestic retrofit. Ideas for Change Consulting and kMatrix Data Services were commissioned to deliver the assessment, exploring the breadth and depth of current skills provision for domestic retrofit; the barriers, challenges and gaps in training provision; qualifications needed for domestic retrofit initiatives and assessment of ‘market demand’ for such skills. This would be brought together into a 10-year legacy plan for futureproofing and strategy development.

Understanding Domestic Retrofit

"…a complete approach to making homes more energy efficient, focusing on the fabric of the house first, including the walls, roof, floors, windows and doors to strategies for ventilation, heating, efficiency and cooling in the summer months."

Key roles to deliver Domestic Retrofit

There are six job roles identified as necessary to deliver the whole house domestic retrofit to a high standard (identified as part of PAS 2035) and the Demand Study identified, four further roles to describe wider skills and activities outlined below:

  1. Retrofit Ancillary Service Occupations – These are a range of roles that are required to support domestic retrofit including those who are involved in raising public awareness for the sector, researching the sector, and engaged in strategic planning
  2. Retrofit Product Manufacturers – These include the range of roles engaged in designing and developing products for the sector including design engineers, process engineers, multi engineers and so on.
  3. Retrofit Public Procurement Officer – These engage in large scale public procurement for retrofit who will have to develop tender specifications, understand supply frameworks and so on. 
  4. Retrofit Public Procurement Support roles – These roles include a range of support services to procurement including for example planning officers and legal support.

The skills and attributes required for each job role are not new but are instead a combination of existing skilled roles. 

Supply Side Analysis: Where are we now?

Specific retrofit training provision offered on the market is currently dominated by manufacturer-led installer training. Businesses that are delivering large scale whole house retrofit are providing in-house training and this sometimes extends to their supply chain. The primary reason for this is that they are struggling to recruit workers with relevant experience.

Independent training providers, diverse in geography, coverage, size, and specialism operate nationally, many of these are involved in delivering government initiatives.  Universities and FE (Further Education) colleges are the main providers of technical and high-level qualifications through their Construction and Built Environment departments.  This training relevant lays the foundations from which more specific domestic retrofit training can be overlaid.  At present few currently provide specific domestic retrofit courses, but many have or are preparing to include a 'Green' element or build in 'sustainability' as a unit or module to their courses and others have plans in place to start delivering domestic retrofit training by October 2022.  

Within the North East and Yorkshire there are nine universities offering degrees and further degree in relevant subject areas. Independent Training Providers through the Green Homes Grant Training Skills competition have offered Retrofit Assessor and Retrofit Co-ordinator courses as well as courses in insulation and non-insulation fabric measures, heat pump and solar thermal installation and heating and hot water controls.  FE providers deliver relevant training within the Construction and Built Environment Sector Subject Area. Much of the foundation training for skills within the role of Retrofit Installer is already being delivered but is in urgent need of updating to reflect a transition from a single measure approach to whole house retrofit

Currently the bulk of training provision specifically for domestic retrofit is targeted at existing tradespeople and installers with an existing level of experience. Hybrid training is common with a mixture of online training and training at physical centres. Due to the pandemic on-line training has expanded. The upside of this is that training has become more accessible, however elements of training will still require in-person training and that is likely to require travelling sometimes significant distances to a centre.  A key issue for micro firms will be the timings of courses and finding the time to train in between work. Greater flexibility and variety of training times is required to make courses more accessible.

In the North East and Tees Valley an online survey was conducted of Principals and Heads of Construction departments as part of this study. The study found that 73% of colleges responding were at some stage of gearing up for domestic retrofit training provision. 

Most colleges felt their staff required some level of upskilling particularly around technical knowledge and expertise relating to domestic retrofit.  Only 27% of colleges who responded had engaged with industry specifically to understand gaps in provision.  

All FE colleges responding were planning to develop and grow their domestic retrofit training provision over the next 5 years.  74% of them rated this as a high or highest priority.  The lack of tangible demand for domestic retrofit training provision was identified as a key barrier and a challenge to accelerating the pace and scale of provision.  The top two areas of support required to build capacity and scale up were support to access funding and assistance with placing students with employers.

Greater volumes of skilled workers will be required across every retrofit role and some roles such as Retrofit Installers and Insulators will be required in significant volumes.   

Workers who possess transferable skills will be increasingly valued within the sector and it is important that training providers embed these skills across all courses. Transferable skills are skills that are valuable across occupations and sectors and include critical thinking, problem solving, systems thinking and having an entrepreneurial mindset.  

There are also specific skills gaps that have been identified and these include additional skills focused on customer engagement roles with groups of tenants and digital skills gaps ranging from data cleansing to data analytics. Both skills shortages have arisen for registered Social Housing Providers and the lack of these skills was felt to have hindered progress in developing their retrofit programmes.   

Retrofit Insulators have been identified as often lacking in a deeper knowledge and understanding of air tightness, ventilation and thermal bridging, there is a need for their knowledge to be extended and overlap with that of the Retrofit Designer to enable smoother workflow within whole house domestic retrofit. There are already significant shortages in the number of Retrofit Insulators available.   General Installers will require upskilling so that they can install low carbon technologies.  There are skills gaps within the evaluation and monitoring roles with a need to upskill technical monitors so that they can recognise inferior quality work.  Other emerging gaps are in supply chain development and management.

A first step to addressing training gaps is to ensure there are adequate numbers of educators and trainers to deliver the training. There is an urgent need to build up training capability and expertise across all domestic retrofit roles:

Installer Training: Manufacturer-led training is focused on experienced installers, offering short, compressed training that could be more comprehensive. Most installer training courses tend to focus on new build and not retrofit. 

Upskilling existing plumbers and heating engineers: An identified training gap to upskill existing plumbers and heating engineers in Heat Pump installation has been addressed by the Heat Pump Association with revamped curriculum content and a newly developed training pathway. Training will be offered nationally across 22 centres. There is a need to facilitate access to this training for local installers. 

Training for the Retrofit Advisor role requires adjustment to include advice to help customers to understand the best route to net zero as well as focus on fuel poverty which must take centre stage as the energy crisis throws many more households into fuel poverty.  There is no specific

Retrofit Evaluator training on offer, training when developed should address issues such as trouble shooting and develop and train evaluators to use digital tools for monitoring, as well as develop standard protocols to measure and monitor performance.  

What is the future demand for skilled workers?

Unlike many other markets, the domestic retrofit market is finite.  In the North East and Yorkshire Energy Hub area there are an estimated 3.4 million homes, most of which will require domestic retrofit.  A Demand Study produced by kMatrix Data Services formed part of this skills assessment and a detailed report has been produced. This is available upon request from the North East LEP. 

This report includes the full methodology and provides comprehensive forecasts of the number of workers required by area, subsector and retrofit role. The study used the pre-pandemic year of 2019/20 as the baseline to forecast full-time equivalent (fte) numbers of employees across 297 domestic retrofit activities provided by 57 skills across the 10 retrofit roles. Four scenarios have been developed, one for 2030 and 2050 with and without the Heat and Buildings Strategy.  The findings were reported for each against the three geographies, North East, Yorkshire and Humber area, and North East and Yorkshire Energy Hub area.

The Domestic Energy Retrofit Sector which includes products, labour and maintenance had a sales value of £163 million and employed 940 full-time equivalents in 2019/20 for the North East and Yorkshire Energy Hub Area. Forecast findings estimate that to reach net zero by 2050 the corresponding figure would be £18,528million with 67,000 fulltime equivalents employed. To reach net zero earlier by 2030, 80,000 full time equivalent workers would be required, the figure is more because of the reduced timeline. The potential increase in market size and employment is staggering.  We are in effect at a standing start.

The 2019/20 breakdown of employment within the sector by retrofit roles shows that 62% of employment is for Retrofit Installers; 11% Retrofit Product Manufacturers;  6% Retrofit Designers; 6% Retrofit Co-ordinators; 5% Retrofit Advisors  and 5% Retrofit Ancillary Services 5%. Other Retrofit roles comprise of the remaining 5%. 

In the baseline year, 62% educators and trainers for domestic retrofit were manufacturing-led training providers.  22% were in Higher Education or Further Education and the remaining 16% were Independent Training Providers. In 2019/20 there were only 32 full time equivalent educators/training providers in the North East and Yorkshire Energy Hub area.  The forecast requirement for trainers and educators is 2808 by 2030. The requirements for trainers, unsurprisingly mirrors the requirements for full-time equivalent employees with the largest number of trainers required for Retrofit Installers followed by Retrofit Product Manufacturers and so on.

The introduction of the Heat and Buildings Strategy is forecast to increase the overall number of skilled people required by an additional 52%.  This is because it is expected to increase consumer awareness of domestic retrofit and increase demand.  Retrofit Installers are expected to see the most significant uplift by 35%.  Other job roles that are likely to see a large uplift in numbers are Retrofit Designers, Retrofit Coordinators and Retrofit Assessors.  In the North East there will be a sustained increase in the requirement for Retrofit Product Manufacturers which will lead to a requirement for more workers in 2050 than in 2030.  This is because the North East is a manufacturing centre and it is expected that natural growth in employment will continue.  

The Heat and Buildings Strategy will alter the skills landscape as policies within the strategy specifically focus on social housing altering the timing and phasing of skills requirement across the sector.  There will be an increased demand for specialist engineers in the initial phases of domestic retrofit, followed by an increased demand for multi engineers in later phases.  There will also be an increased demand for painters and decorators as the focus on social housing incorporates this element of domestic retrofit within the project, unlike the private owner occupier market who are more likely to complete this element themselves to save costs.  There will also continue to be an increase in the number of gas engineers required within a domestic setting as gas boilers will continue to be installed for a period.

A relative scalability index of the sub-sectors within the sector has been developed as part of the Demand study.  Scalability refers to the ease with which different sub-sectors of the market can upskill relative to each other based on several indicators including things like the length of time to train.   The study found the sub-sector 'making good after works' had high scalability and a high requirement of employment, 'Energy efficiency measures' and 'Electricity and Heat' were less easily scalable but they had a larger sales value with a larger relative requirement for employment. 'Advisory and related services did have the highest scalability but the relative employment requirement was not high.  Easy to scale areas with high numbers of employment requirements are Heat Pumps within 'Electricity and Heat', Insulated Doors within 'Energy Efficiency Measures' and Monitoring and Evaluation within 'Advisory and Related Services.

Where will the skilled people come from?

The scale of the challenge is monumental, for the North East and Yorkshire Energy Hub area there is a need to transition from the current employment of 1,000 full-time equivalent workers to 80,000 if we are to achieve net zero by 2030.  Where could all these workers come from? It is well known that the Construction sector is already experiencing a significant shortage of skilled construction workers.  The sector itself is at a crossroad and in urgent need of transformation to survive. Within this context, there is a need to actively engage with a several feeder channels.  

Next Generation

The study has identified a few potential feeder channels.  The first is the 'Next Generation' though this might be tricky as the construction sector is currently not attracting the volume and breadth of workers required to replenish itself.  However, there is such a diversity in the range of skills required for domestic retrofit, that it is possible for young people to enjoy a fulfilling career across a range of occupations with good salaries and a strong purpose and this must be actively promoted.


The second are Returners, in recent years a considerable number of workers have left the construction industry because of Brexit and the intermittent nature of demand within the sector.  These workers already have the skills required to operate in the domestic retrofit sector with a minimum amount of upskilling. These workers should be encouraged to return.  

New Entrants from Horizontal sectors

The third feeder channel is new entrants from horizontal sectors.  The demand study considered potential feeder channels for each retrofit role and identified ex service personnel from the army, navy, air force, the wider construction sector and other sectors that have faced contraction of the market over the years.  These sectors include aerospace, automotive, ship building and metal casting.  There are number of engineering sectors including industrial engineering and environmental engineering where workers will require minimal upskilling if they were to enter the domestic retrofit sector. 

Unemployed, underemployed and those in unstable employment

A final feeder channel to consider are those currently unemployed, underemployed or  in unstable employment.  Since the pandemic there has been a shake-up in many traditional patterns of work within the labour market.  Workers are also rethinking  their career goals and objectives. There might be scope to tap into these labour market changes once identified in more detail, to attract a broader range of workers into the sector.

More information

To find out more about the project, please get in touch with one of our team. 


Download the full methodological statement for the skills needs assessment.

The North East Energy Catalyst

To find out more about the North East Energy Catalyst.