How Essex County Council fuelled economic growth with energy retrofits

When one English local authority discovered it was home to less than 10 qualified Retrofit Assessors it needed an efficient and effective training pipeline to plug the gap.

Essex County Council’s Green Sector Growth Manager, Loretta Hoy, explains how a new Retrofit Academy was set up, creating jobs and tackling an urgent energy need, winning Delivering Clean Growth at the Adept President’s Awards. 

We started writing our Sector Development Strategy two years ago in response to coming out of pandemic lockdowns and feeling the brunt of associated economic turmoil. It was based on what we thought the future was going to look like and identified the sectors with the most significant growth potential in a net-zero world.

It was an Essex-wide strategy, looking at how the business community, academic and other institutions could work collaboratively to harness innovation and deliver clean growth, whilst supporting our residents into long term prosperous jobs.

The strategy identified retrofitting construction as a top growth sector in terms of job creation and increase in GVA. With construction being the second highest carbon-emitting sector after transportation, we realised that we needed to take action around retrofit to help us achieve our net zero by 2050 target.

We started thinking about how we could turn the dial to kickstart the retrofit sector within Essex. After speaking to the Retrofit Academy, which was already delivering professional retrofit training skills, we identified very few residents with retrofit qualifications.

With 633,000 homes in the county, 68% with an EPC rating of D or below, this offered a huge opportunity to access funding from the government, not only to improve energy efficiency, but also to help our businesses grow by creating a skills pipeline.

We took a holistic approach to solving this issue, considering supply chain and housing stock , as well as working with training providers to identify tutors and determine how to market training opportunities. We also looked at the potential legacy of the project, to do something in perpetuity once the funding stream was finished.

The project was a multi-faceted partnership, and we collaborated with the Retrofit Academy throughout. This included on a bid to the UK Community Renewal Fund. We also worked with two of our levelling up priority areas, Harlow and Tendring District Councils, as well as Adult Community Learning (ACL) Essex, and Generation – a social enterprise which supported some of the boot camp delivery.

The training focussed on ‘white collar’ co-ordination skills, rather than those that would equip people to physically do retrofit work. The Level 2 qualification was designed for people who had no understanding of retrofit.

This included those whose job role may change to include retrofit responsibilities, unemployed individuals looking to widen their job prospects or even individuals interested in improving the energy efficiency of their own homes.

The Level 3 Retrofit Advisor Course gave participants the relevant skills to be able to provide customer service support and advice on the options for retrofitting a building. This suited people with previous experience in customer-facing roles. For example, retail professionals whose employment prospects had been impacted by the pandemic and automation.

Level 4 was aimed at those already working as domestic energy assessors, such as those providing EPC ratings to property sellers or landlords. We quickly realised this cohort were very busy in their day jobs. To make the training more meaningful, we offered a bespoke dual Retrofit Advisor and Domestic Energy Assessor course.

Level 5 offered a diploma in Retrofit Co-ordination. It targeted those with at least two years’ experience in the construction sector who were interested in adding retrofit to their credentials.

Having conversations with the right people was key to the success of the training programme. We took a targeted approach throughout, speaking to CITB, trade organisations, the Federation of Small Businesses and our district council Economic Development colleagues, ensuring they were ready and equipped to get in front of businesses to talk about the training programme.

With the launch of the Retrofit Academy: Essex, we have a lasting legacy to boost confidence in the local retrofit market and deliver ongoing training. Continuing to work with our partners to identify and access new funding streams is a key part of this legacy.

By bringing the district councils, trade bodies, social enterprises and training providers together we have been able to pool resources and share learnings to deliver clean growth and significantly support the county’s net-zero ambitions.

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