Why we need to invest in people

We need to invest in people – or we could get it very wrong, says Mark Batchelor, Hyde’s Interim Chief Property Officer.

The Greener Futures Partnership’s (GFP) aim is to create sustainable tenancies, homes and communities, delivering sustainable affordable healthier and safer homes for our customers. So, where better to find out more about this than the recent Housing 2021 Conference in Manchester.

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be part of this conference, my first ‘in person’ event since March 2020.

Spending time at the conference with colleagues from within the social housing sector and other GFP colleagues, it was clear that the sustainability agenda has rocketed from 0 to 100mph. I got to see first-hand some of the opportunities and complexities involved – everybody understands the need to change, but it’s extremely difficult to come up with ‘the right solution’ or understand what that is.

You only have to switch on the news at the moment to see how much the increase in energy bills is going to affect millions of households across the country, as well as impacting on businesses and the economy.

We need to work with our customers to find the right solutions/social value for them. At Hyde, we’re already working with our customers who are going to struggle with an increase in energy bills. We are very confident in the support we have in place for our customers who struggle financially. We offer free debt and welfare benefit advice to around 2,000 customers every year. We’re also able to issue fuel vouchers, and can refer customers directly affected by any increase to specialist energy advice providers.

But we need to do more. Different areas, based upon the energy networks, will need different consideration. We want to reduce fuel poverty, and encourage our customers to embrace sustainable living. We are also going to research and talk to our customers about new technology.

Along with Rose Bean, from Abri, we took to the Unlock Net Zero stage at the conference and gave our thoughts on sustainability.

At my session entitled ‘The net zero procurement and skills challenge: £1 trillion+ opportunity’, I highlighted the difficulty with choosing the right solution which would drive customer benefit alongside the net zero agenda. And, the skills gap that we are facing both in sector and across the construction industry.

Young skills labour entering the construction industry is at its lowest ever level. YouGov research shows that only 3% of young people aged between 18 and 24 have searched for a job in construction. The average age of a UK construction worker is 56 (over 25% of workers are in their fifties).

Almost all roles in our sector will need new knowledge or skills. Future green skills will include: building new energy efficient homes – low carbon training with a focus on systems design and implementation; retrofit – there is currently a critical shortage of retrofit designers; and heat pumps – upskilling will include heat loss calculations, hydraulic balancing and flow temperature calculations.

So, we need to invest in people and we need to start co-creating with our customers. If we don’t get this right, there could be a massive skills gap and technology which simply doesn’t deliver. If we don’t carry out some careful planning, we’ll get this wrong. So, we need to act now!