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New Challenges need New Skills

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COP26 is receding in the rear-view mirror. Two weeks of high-level talks between world leaders has resulted in statements of national commitment to reduce carbon emissions. While much will continue to be debated about whether it was a ‘success’ and whether commitments are ‘enough,’ we should see the outcomes as one part of an ongoing process to address climate change.

For the construction industry, there is a need to recognise that the sector plays a key role in helping nations address the climate crisis. In the UK for example, construction contributes about 40% of the CO2 emissions, 10% from construction processes and 30% from the operation of buildings themselves. For the developed economies of the world to bring CO2 levels down by 2050, the construction industry will need to take radical steps to address the impact of new construction, the retrofitting of existing buildings and integrating technologies that will reduce emissions throughout the lifecycle of buildings.

The Global Alliance for Building and Construction has calculated that current renovation rates are only about 1% of the construction work that takes place annually.[1] This needs to be 3% each year to meet 2050 targets.  Why is this shift in renovation rates necessary? Can’t we just build better new buildings? The reality is we must do both. The UK Green Building Council has estimated that we already have 80% of the building stock that will exist by 2050.[2] So, we must ensure that the 20% of ‘new build’ is driving toward or exceeding net zero and we must ensure that there is an increase in renovation to ensure that existing buildings are made more efficient.

We are now approaching the 6-year anniversary of Mark Farmer’s report into the UK Construction Labour Model.[3] When it was published in 2016, many saw it as the herald for a new approach to construction that would see the sector embrace new technologies, construction practices and methods. Although some firms have invested in robotics, factories, and off-site systems, this is still a very small minority.

The UK construction industry, and the global construction sector, also faces a skills shortage. Within many economies the construction workforce is largely comprised of an ageing workforce and there is a struggle to attract new recruits. While this is not wholly the reality, the image persists of men in hard hats, hi-viz tabards and boots working on a muddy building site. Further, the sector has often been seen as the place you “end up” if you aren’t good academically.

But the future of the sector, and existing demand, is rapidly shifting to more advanced technical roles. We also know that 72% of respondents to Pearson’s Global Learner Survey last year on ‘The Climate Education Gap’[4] believe career opportunities in green jobs will increase over the next 10 years. For some time, industry reports have projected that lower-skilled roles will decline in demand as more and more of the construction process relies on digitisation, automation, and higher-technical skills. But here again, we have a challenge. To meet the needs of these roles we need to educate and train people in more specialised roles.

Welcome to the Higher Technical Qualifications in Construction

One of the key features of the UK government’s response to the “Reforming Higher Technical Education” consultation (completed in July 2020) was the call for Higher Technical Qualifications. These would be qualifications that have been approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE). The approval criteria call upon awarding organisations, colleges, and universities to show that their qualifications meet the knowledge, skills, and behaviours (KSB) defined within specific Occupational Standards. Further, approval requires that the qualification has been developed in collaboration with employers and proves industry relevance.

Pearson are pleased to be among the first awarding organisations to have had a suite of construction qualifications approved by IfATE as HTQs. As part of the process of developing a new suite of Higher National HTQs in Construction, we have sought to ensure that the content of the qualifications embeds sustainability throughout; with some units fully designed around sustainability while others integrate issues of sustainability within a broader curriculum. The Higher Nationals in Construction Suite; including, HN Construction Management, HN Quantity Surveying and HN Architectural Technology, all integrate key issues associated with the drive toward net zero.

These new Higher Nationals qualifications, approved as HTQs, continue to support the government’s initiatives to improve the quality and availability of technical education in the UK. Providing progression from the T-Levels in Design, Surveying and Planning, Building Services Engineering, and Onsite Construction (in addition to other educational routes), the HTQs provide a key stage in supporting employers to secure the future with graduates that are prepared for higher technical and professional roles.  These qualifications will be available for ‘first teaching’ in September of 2023.

Pearson are also one of the first awarding organisations to develop a qualification specifically addressing the challenges of automation, offsite construction, and modularisation; through their new Higher Nationals in Modern Methods of Construction. Developed in collaboration with George Clark’s MOBIE (www.mobie.org.uk), this qualification addresses many of the challenges the sector faces and aims to develop graduates that are prepared for the higher technical roles that the industry needs today and into the future. Pearson has a clear purpose – adding life to a lifetime of learning – that links naturally to our potential to make a significant positive impact on our society and our planet.

Achieving net zero, while maintaining construction industry and economic growth, requires the sector to embrace new methods and new processes. These, in turn, require a new approach to education and skills. With the HTQ approval of the BTEC Higher Nationals in Construction Suite of qualifications, Pearson is supporting the industry and education to make the change.


[1]           Every Building on the Planet Must Be ‘Net Zero Carbon’ by 2050 to Keep Global Warming Below 2°C – New Report, https://www.worldgbc.org/news-media/every-building-planet-must-be-%E2%80%98net-zero-carbon%E2%80%99-2050-keep-global-warming-below-2%C2%B0c-new

[2]           Net Zero in Construction – A Significant Driver of Change, https://www.wrighthassall.co.uk/knowledge-base/net-zero-in-construction-a-significant-driver-of-change

[3]           The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/construction-labour-market-in-the-uk-farmer-review

[4] Pearson (2021), The Climate Education Gap, https://plc.pearson.com/en-GB/future-learning/global-learner-survey



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