The renovated exterior of red-brick former industrial building.
Birmingham’s ‘Former Gas Retort House’ was built in 1822 for the Birmingham Gas Light and Coke Company to contain the risky, high-temperature process of producing gas by heating coal. Recently, APEC Architects completed work to sensitively retrofit the building. © APEC
Birmingham’s ‘Former Gas Retort House’ was built in 1822 for the Birmingham Gas Light and Coke Company to contain the risky, high-temperature process of producing gas by heating coal. Recently, APEC Architects completed work to sensitively retrofit the building. © APEC

Delivering Net Zero for England’s Historic Buildings: Local Data on the Demand for Retrofitting Skills and Economic Growth

We have published local data on the estimated need for retrofitting skills to deliver Net Zero for England’s historic buildings. This is accompanied by information on how areas across England stand to benefit from growing the green economy by adapting historic buildings to be more energy efficient.

Use our interactive map and dashboard

Viewing tip

For best results please view the map on laptop or desktop rather than mobile devices.

An accessible spreadsheet version of the statistics used in the dashboard is available.

We are encouraging the 38 Employer Representative Bodies responsible for implementing Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) across England to develop proposals to train new and existing workers on how to work with traditionally constructed buildings, including skills bootcamps, apprenticeships and training courses, designed to provide the right skills for local retrofitting needs.

By using our new online map, people can look at each Local Authority area in England and see the average number of new workers needed per year up to 2050, the estimated direct economic output this would generate and the types of skills – from plumbers and plasterers to planners - needed for their region.

Buildings in England are responsible for around a fifth of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, with one in five being built before 1919. On average, 86,500 new workers per year will be needed until 2050 to retrofit England’s traditionally constructed buildings in order to meet Net Zero targets, generating around £12 billion in direct annual economic output.

Investment opportunities from making much-loved local historic buildings more energy efficient, whilst conserving their historic significance, are quantified for towns and cities, allowing local authorities to develop tailored skills proposals.

The new data reveals synergies with the need to tackle regional economic inequalities:

  • Greater Manchester needs around 5,000 workers to retrofit the city region’s 311,000 buildings built before 1919, generating £570m of direct economic output every year
  • Liverpool City Region needs around 2,800 workers generating £320m
  • West Yorkshire needs around 3,500 workers generating £360m
  • Greater London needs 16,300 workers generating £3.1bn

Background to addressing the skills gap

In March 2023, Historic England alongside partners in property, housing and heritage launched the report “Heritage and Carbon: Addressing the Skills Gap” alongside partner organisations in property and heritage. This highlighted the vital contribution that historic buildings can make in the fight against climate change and focuses on the scale of the opportunity to address the skills gap required to meet this challenge.

The demand for retrofit work is expected to be so great that it will pose a risk to our nation's much-loved traditional buildings. Inappropriate alterations and replacements by unskilled people could not only lead to the loss of significant historic fabric, in some cases they can cause unintended consequences that make people's homes less comfortable.

The data on projected workforce needs highlights two skills challenges: the need to train new workers in the range of occupations outlined; and the need for these workers (and existing workers) to be trained how to appropriately work with traditionally constructed buildings.

At Historic England our primary concern is with the latter of these; however, this includes supporting development of career pathways and qualifications for the supply chain that include an appropriate level of heritage focused content.

Our advice looks at ways of developing the skills needed to make traditional buildings as energy efficient as possible, ; the qualifications you should be considering, and ways to embed these in local skills training.

The Level 3 Award in Energy Efficiency Measures for Older and Traditional Buildings is the only heritage-specific qualification directly related to retrofit. It is named as a required qualification in the current edition of PAS-2035 and is delivered through a two day course.

There are two principal Awarding Bodies for this qualification, the National Open College Network (NOCN) and the Awarding Body of the Built Environment (ABBE), who have various approved centres for delivery.

The National Open College Network have an online map based search function to find approved training providers who deliver the qualification.

The Awarding Body of the Built Environment also provide an online map based list of providers delivering the qualification.

The lists can change quite quickly so it is recommended to run a search yourself for the most up to date list of providers based in your area,; or who deliver training nationally.

Historic England is currently working with its counterpart organisations in Wales and Scotland in the development of a new handbook to accompany this qualification. Its content is underpinned by the National Occupational Standards with enhancements that draw from our extensive consultation with the  National Open College Network. We are currently identifying technical authors and aim to make the handbook available in the 24/25 financial year to be used as a free resource to support all registered learners and training providers of the qualification.

The Level 3 Award in understanding Repair and Maintenance for Older and Traditional Buildings is the sister qualification to the Energy Efficiency Award and in many ways sets the baseline that the energy efficiency qualification should build on. This is also delivered through a 2 day training course and providers deliver in-person and online.

The Awarding Body for this qualification is the National Open College Network and you can use the same search function to identify providers in your area.

Delivery of the training itself could be done in a number of ways, for example:

Direct funding of the qualification. This could be offered on an individual basis, or to targeted employers in priority areas for new or existing employees in the construction sector.

Skills Bootcamps. Skills Bootcamps give people aged 19+ the opportunity to build up sector specific skills through fully-funded and co-funded flexible courses of up to 16 weeks. Conversations with existing partners could look to enhance or expand provision to focus on heritage retrofit; and completion of the named qualifications could be a part of this.

An example of a heritage focused skills bootcamp is Nottingham Trent University’s Introduction to Heritage and Conservation Skills boot camp.

Sector Work Based Academy Programmes (SWAPs). These programmes are focused on job-seekers 18+ and would offer pre-employment training (which could include achieving the Repair and Maintenance and Energy Efficiency qualifications); a work experience placement with a local business working in the retrofit sector; and a guaranteed job interview or help with an employer’s recruitment process. Participants remain on benefits while on a Sector Work Based Academy Programme placement. The government will pay any travel and childcare costs whilst benefit claimants are on the scheme. There is no direct cost to an employer for running a sector-based work academy as training and administration costs are covered by government funding.

An example of a successful heritage focused Sector Work Based Academy Programme is the Landmark Trust’s project at Calverly Old Hall. This was not specifically 'retrofit' focused but provides a good model for training people in a range of heritage construction skills.

Apprenticeships provide a pathway into an occupation; combining training with practical work experience over a longer time.

There are apprenticeships available across the range of occupational areas outlined in the data above and work undertaken by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has been ensuring 'green skills' are integrated into all construction route Standards. However, this does not necessarily mean that the content around traditionally constructed buildings is at an appropriate level in these standards; as their development has been focused more around new-build construction.

Historic England’s Heritage Building Skills programme has been working with, and supporting, heritage focused construction companies to take on apprentices using mainstream standards. This means individuals can learn a trade but can do so with a focus on repair, maintenance and adaption of historic buildings (e.g. stonemasons, plasterers, roofers, painters and decorators etc.)

In this model, we recruit partner firms to host the apprentices and as part of the application process ask them about their work with pre-1919 buildings.

Recently a number of new construction apprenticeships have been created which focus on "craft". These include:

  • Craft Bricklayer
  • Craft Painter and Decorator
  • Craft Carpentry and Joinery

Historic England has not been directly involved in the creation of these new standards; they do have much more of a focus on repair, maintenance and adaption of existing buildings than on new builds.

Historic England has also led the development of a brand new apprenticeship standard: a level 5 Heritage Construction Specialist. This apprenticeship is aimed at developing someone who will ensure the maintenance of historic properties through construction projects that repair, restore, maintain, adapt, alter or retrofit historic buildings and heritage assets; doing so according to their significance and performance. It provides an opportunity for someone who already has a trade or profession, such as woodworker, bricklayer, stonemason, plasterer, metalworker or surveyor, develop specialist knowledge and experience of the requirements of working at historic properties. This apprenticeship will take approximately 2 years to complete.

The Heritage Construction Specialist has just been approved for delivery by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and we would expect to see training providers and employers offering the apprenticeship in 2024.