The UK Carbon Plan – What Will It Mean for the Building Industry?

The UK Carbon Plan represents the Government’s commitment to creating a greener Britain – with specific reference to the construction industry. But what does it actually mean? Will the UK construction industry find itself hampered by stringent legislation; or will it find that the UK Carbon Plan gives it assistance in making the changes it needs to? Early signs suggest that the industry may find that Governmental plans to penalise carbon emissions could translate into an explosion of new jobs as retrofitting becomes a financial must for existing UK companies.

Construction Recruitment Under the UK Carbon Plan

The basic argument of the UK Carbon Plan – that carbon emissions are environmentally costly and so should be chargeable – is a pretty big carrot for the UK construction industry, which has suffered a lack of skilled employees over the last 20 years. Two recessions have taken out longstanding experts from every trade, leaving plenty of scope for new employment but not a great deal of incentive. Now that the Carbon Plan is setting itself up to charge all UK businesses for their carbon emissions, the construction industry could be looking at a huge number of potential new contracts. It is cheaper in the long term for a company to retrofit with eco friendly heating and lighting than it is for it to pay the bills for its carbon emissions: a fact that is causing construction recruitment suppliers like Construction Support Line to prepare for an influx of new workers. After the drop off in building work caused by the housing market crash, the Carbon Plan could be the stimulator that the UK construction industry has been looking for.

Will the Carbon Plan Create New Types of Construction Jobs in the UK?

As the UK Carbon Plan warms up and British businesses prepare to be assessed on their chargeable carbon emissivity, it is possible that new types of surveyor will be appearing on UK construction sites. They’ll be looking to measure the current carbon emissions of commercial premises that are being prepared for retrofit – and like everyone else on a construction site they’ll be required to pass a CSCS Test and present the right kind of CSCS Card (in this case a Regular Site Visitor Card). All UK site visitors and construction workers require the CSCS Card – to find out how to get one you can visit the Construction Support Line website, which has links explaining both the Health, Safety & Environment Tests and the Card application process.

The Carbon Plan and Construction Skills in the UK

The UK Carbon Plan isn’t without its problems of course. The whole idea requires that the construction workers doing the retrofitting have the right skills for the job. The UK building industry is already suffering from a shortage of skilled workers, and the skills required in order to enact retrofits caused by the UK Carbon Plan are not yet in place. Without Construction NVQ and CSCS accreditation for the new skills it is also hard to see how the new skills can be monitored. As the training initiative required here slips into gear, Construction Support Line will be supplying booking services as normal. The question is, how long will it take for effective training programmes to be ready?

Building the Future – Next Steps for the Construction Industry

It isn’t easy being green. That’s the message that the UK construction industry seems to give out: as a whole, there are still no industry wide sustainable building initiatives in place. That said, there is definitely a shift in public consciousness, with sustainability and eco friendliness becoming more important on an individual level. As the public perception of its own energy use coincides with a post recession mentality (save, not spend), the idea of spending in the short term to save in the long run is translating into changes in the domestic redevelopment and new build market. London construction companies and trades people are starting to offer greener energy options as standard – from heated skirting boards and photovoltaic panels to efficiency rated boilers.

Will the Construction Qualifications Reflect New Building Techniques?

Before the Construction Skills Certification Scheme there was no industry wide way of measuring the skill levels and health and safety requirements of the 300+ trades in the UK construction industry. The CSCS was put in place in response to a Parliamentary review that recognised a fluctuating standard of competency and health and safety literacy as a problem: and was dovetailed with the NVQ system (and the SVQ in Scotland) to allow the industry to have a way of measuring skills directly.

As noted there are, yet, no industry wide qualifications or regulations that specifically refer to the “green” construction techniques. BREEAM, an eco-efficiency standard aimed at giving construction companies a framework for developing future friendly office buildings, is starting to gain currency among companies that see eco friendliness as the tender-winning attribute it is becoming. BREEAM itself is unlikely to become a governing body, like JIB and ECS did: but it might have enough influence to see “green” skills incorporated in the NVQ modules that apply to electrotechnical engineers and other skilled workers.

Will a Change in NVQ Modules Have an Effect on the CSCS Card?

Changes to NVQs are unlikely to have much of an effect on the actual process of health and safety testing or CSCS Cards. The health and safety issues present in installing a radiant skirting board rather than a radiator are much the same (the radiant skirting board is safer so there should theoretically be less to learn!); and the skill levels required to fit it still require an understanding of a traditional boiler and pipes heating system. The questions in the test may differ – but the types of test and CSCS Card have no reason to change.

What About UK Construction Law?

Current UK construction law has made provisions for some eco friendly concerns, mostly to do with emissions and energy use. The biggest pressure on the UK construction industry, though, comes not from direct construction law but from Government initiatives designed to punish any industry that has an adverse impact on the environment. The result is an upwards trend in green practices within British construction – the future of the construction industry.