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A rapid, long-lasting transformation of the construction sector is required as we revolutionise skills and policies to address carbon emissions from the industry. With as many as 22,500 new roles to be filled in Scotland over the next six years if we are to get anywhere close to reaching net-zero by 2045, Caitriona Jordan, Head of Retrofit Programmes at Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) tells us how important upskilling the current workforce is.

Scotland must reduce net greenhouse gas emissions, 40% of which come from the built environment. This represents an opportunity as we address the zero carbon skills challenge facing this sector.

Scotland will not achieve zero carbon without making immediate and significant changes to the construction sector. We need to focus on upskilling and retraining those already in the sector as well as encouraging and facilitating new recruits coming into the industry. Apprenticeships are still one of the core routes into employment for the sector, accounting for almost one-quarter of all Scottish apprentices.

To ensure our future workforce are equipped to deliver this zero-carbon transition within the built environment we need to support those within the industry by investing in Further Education to ensure that the curriculum is fit for purpose and can be at the forefront of industry practice.

Awareness around sustainable methods of construction is growing and positive progress in this area is being made. Further opportunities within the green sector must be explored by aligning skills with social and environmental demands. To help our apprentices to learn about new materials, processes and standards – such as Passivhaus and EnerPHit – we must recognise and embrace hands-on, immersive learning environments.

More than any other industry – simply because of the volume of apprentices in construction – we need to make sure everyone already working in the sector can lead by example when it comes to sustainability. There are a number of courses being supported through the National Transition Training Fund, including CSIC’s Low Carbon Learning programme, aimed at doing just that.

Training providers are continually improving their course programmes and qualifications in sustainability skills are already included in many courses. We are collaborating with Ayrshire College, City of Glasgow College, City Building and others about taking our Passivhaus training rig out ‘on the road’ to deliver valuable practical teaching. Borders College has launched green skills training opportunities in areas such as sustainable construction and airtightness and Lanarkshire College is working with industry to develop a unique training opportunity in external wall insulation. We are also working with training provider, tigers and Morgan Sindall, to deliver a session focused on retrofit and low carbon construction for their current cohort of modern apprentices.

Every trade in the sector has a role to play and joined-up thinking will be essential for building both the right workforce and a more sustainable built environment. In every project, the decisions made by one contractor can impact the next and, therefore, we need to ensure workers have an understanding of key standards and approaches. Small changes to traditional practices have the power to make a big impact in the transition to a zero-carbon built environment.

As we approach the 2045 target, adopting low carbon construction methods and an informed approach to retrofit, including standards like PAS 2035:2019, will only become more mainstream. We need to work collectively to make sure we have a workforce with the skills needed to make that happen.

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