Where is the new built environment workforce? Examining the Skills for a Sustainable Skyline Taskforce’s new report on the built environment

The ground-breaking ‘Skyline Skills Recommendations Report 2023’ highlights a gap in the skilled, diverse workforce that is needed to build, retrofit, and manage sustainable buildings in London. The Skills for a Sustainable Skyline Taskforce provide us with their key recommendations
August 9, 2023

                                                                                      Source: City of London


The need for a sustainable skyline

The built environment and construction sector account for 38% of global carbon emissions[i]. In the UK, 25% of emissions are directly attributable to the built environment[ii], and in London alone, buildings contribute to 76% of greenhouse gas emissions.[iii] London’s built environment is constantly changing, with new buildings going up all the time.


                                                                  Figure 1: London’s planning applications

                                                                  Source: Planning London Datahub


Deloitte’s most recent London Office Crane Survey has found that the number of new development starts has increased by almost 80% since Winter 2022, and there is currently the highest number of refurbishment schemes on record[iv]. London needs to be net zero carbon by 2030 to hit the Greater London Authority’s target[v]. In order to reduce London’s emissions, sustainable design and development are imperative.


                                                                   Figure 2: Development happening in London

                                                                    Source: Deloitte


It is more than just demand and emissions that are spurring on sustainability

The Skyline Skills Recommendations Report suggests that new technologies, materials and regulations and an increased interest in the circular economy are creating a ‘radical shift’ in how we design and construct commercial properties.

The problem is that we don’t have the skills to construct and maintain the built environment that we need and desire

As we have previously mentioned, there is a green skills gap that exists in the UK and around the world. There is also a skills gap in the built environment sector. 44% of respondents in a Taskforce survey have said that the built environment does not have enough skilled workers to achieve net zero targets[vi]. In Central London, there is an annual demand for 34,420 people to work in non-construction roles in the built environment, such as IT, office-based work, and other professional and technical roles[vii]. 16,320 of these people work in the commercial sector[viii]. There is a government target for 30,000 accredited TrustMark retrofit coordinators by 2030, but in 2022, there were only 506[ix]. Furthermore, it takes employers months to recruit qualified workers for sustainable roles.

This skills gap can be linked to poor education in terms of providing low-carbon skills but also surrounding what it means to work in the built environment. The report has found that ProQual in Manchester is the only carbon literacy course for built environment professionals. There are also very few apprenticeship positions (only 10 apprenticeship standards) linked to low-carbon skills, and there won’t be any retrofit apprenticeships before 2026. Even when apprenticeships exist, attracting applicants, retaining apprentices, and then having them actually go on to work in the built environment is a challenge. Between 2021-2022, the number of construction apprenticeships has decreased by 4,000. In a survey of people aged 18-29, 52% of respondents said they did not want a job in the built environment because they perceived the jobs as “dirty and manual”. 37% did not want jobs in the built environment because they thought they were “dangerous”[x]. This shows a lack of understanding about the jobs available in architecture, data analytics, engineering, planning, management, and surveying. There is also a lack of awareness that careers in the built environment can support a net zero transition. A Taskforce survey of students aged 13-16 found that 83.5% were unaware that a career in the built environment could advance our progress to net zero[xi]. If students were made more aware, the number of people going into built environment careers in the future could increase. A 2021 government survey has found that 81% of 15-year-olds want to do more to protect the environment[xii].

What is also lacking are green skills from a more diverse set of workers. The report states that the UK-built environment sector is among the worst across all diverse areas. Women only make up 13% of the sector and only about 4% of senior positions[xiii]. Only 6% of people in minority groups and people with disabilities progress to leadership roles[xiv]. Nepotism is another barrier that ethnic minorities face. Only 17% of ethnic minority students have a personal contact in the industry, compared to almost 45% of white students[xv].

Improving diversity has been a priority in the built environment sector. In 2021, CIOB released a report on diversity and inclusion in construction. They found that women comprise only 12.3% of the country’s built environment workforce[xvi]. This is much worse on-site, with only 1-2% of the workforce being female. Furthermore, only 5-7% of the UK’s construction workforce is Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic (BAME), and this is only 1% in senior roles. Less than 3% of people working in the construction industry are LGBTQ+. They also found that only 10% of construction workers are aged 19-24, reiterating the fear that the built environment is not a desirable job sector for young people.

RICS’ ‘Women in surveying: insight report’, based on survey data from 2022, found that women represented only 18% of RICS’ 139,000 international professionals across 23 pathways[xvii]. The rate at which women are joining RICS membership is significantly lower than men. Another issue is that women are discontinuing their membership much earlier than men. The average age that women leave RICS membership is 47, after an average of 16 years. However, men retain their membership for an average of 28 years until the age of 61[xviii]. In the built environment sector, women are generally more likely to leave within 5 years due to unfriendly work environments and limited development opportunities[xix].

                                                                         Figure 3: Proportion of RICS members who are women


                                                                        Source: RICS


In 2022, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Landscape Institute (LI), Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) – collectively representing around 350,000 members- signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to try and create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive sector[xx]. Their agreement focused on data collection, EDI competencies, and improving the understanding of the transition from education to employment. 

How to build better buildings for tomorrow

The report outlines what the built environment industry needs to create a sustainable skyline.

                                                                                                Figure 3: Key recommendations


                                                                                              Source: City of London


The recommendations are as follows:

1.      Planning Pipeline- Create an easily accessible way to collect and share data on upcoming developments and retrofit activities within Central London so that the sector can better quantify workforce skills shortages needed to undertake the work. This platform could build on the Greater London Authority’s existing platform: the Planning London Datahub.

2.      Industry Accountability- The sector should have senior-level accountability for sustainability and skills training. Organisations should also develop targeted strategies to encourage sustainable design and retrofit as well as to work with clients and tenants to efficiently run in-use operations.

3.      Training and Apprenticeships- Develop sustainability training, apprenticeships, and upskilling courses for emerging job roles by actively engaging and collaborating with IfATE and training providers.

4.      Building Demand for Skills- Work with the government to set more ambitious green skills legislation for the built environment. This can include exploring ways to reform Section 106 policies, playing an active role in shaping the Procurement Bill (currently being reviewed by Parliament) and reforming the Apprenticeship Levy.

5.      Diversity and Culture- Invest in attracting diverse candidates to a wider spectrum of sustainable roles across the built environment. Achieving this will involve collecting diversity data, setting targets and strategies, and taking action to reform organisational cultures so that they are fair and inclusive.

6.      Promotion and Engagement- Engage with schools and colleges and generate positive PR to better promote the sector’s role in addressing climate change and its wide-ranging career pathways. 

Each recommendation is based on data, and the report briefly outlines how each issue will be addressed.



[i] CIC- Climate Change

[ii] UKGBC- Climate Change Mitigation

[iii] City of London & Skills for a Sustainable Skyline Taskforce- Skyline Skills Recommendations Report 2023

[iv] Deloitte- London Office Crane Survey Summer 2023

[v] Mayor of London- Pathways to Net Zero Carbon by 2030

[vi] City of London & Skills for a Sustainable Skyline Taskforce- Skyline Skills Recommendations Report 2023

[vii] Ibid

[viii] Ibid

[ix] Ibid

[x] Ibid

[xi] Ibid

[xii] Natural England- Over 80% of Young People Eager to Take Action to Help the Environment

[xiii] City of London & Skills for a Sustainable Skyline Taskforce- Skyline Skills Recommendations Report 2023

[xiv] Ibid

[xv] Fe Week- T Level Results 2022: 6 Key Findings

[xvi] CIOB- Special Report: Diversity and Inclusion in Construction

[xvii] RICS- Women in Surveying: Insight Report

[xviii] Ibid

[xix] City of London & Skills for a Sustainable Skyline Taskforce- Skyline Skills Recommendations Report 2023

[xx] RICS- Built Environment Sector Bodies Unite to Improve Diversity and Inclusion

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Gemma Drake
Research Analyst

Gemma recently graduated with a degree in International Development. She is currently studying for an MSc in Sustainable Urbanism, which examines urban planning and urban design through a sustainability lens. “I’m passionate about addressing sustainability challenges in a holistic and pragmatic way. Zero Carbon Academy's diverse range of services targets many of the areas that need support if we are to transition to a liveable future. I’m excited to see the impact that the Academy makes.”

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