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Building engineers should be more “vocal” about their industry’s significance to the UK’s net zero ambition over the next three decades

The building engineering sector is urged to become more vocal about the role it will need to play in ensuring the UK’s national net zero carbon aims can be met.

Paul Drechsler, current chair of the International Chamber of Commerce and a former chief executive with Wates Group, said the sector needed to build awareness of the importance of its work in ensuring the long-term safety and wellbeing of individuals and the environment.

Mr Drechsler, who has also previously been Chair of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), was speaking during the BESA President’s Lunch held in London last week.

He told attendees that there was presently very limited understanding outside of the building engineering sector about the industry’s significance and influence in addressing climate change.

Mr Drechsler added, “You are in competition for talent with a lot of other major sectors, so you need to stand up and speak proudly about what you are doing.”

Another theme of the speech was the conclusion earlier of this month of the COP26 International Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.  The two-week conference brought together world leaders, experts and academics, as well as lobbyists and campaigners to try and reach new global environmental agreements and stricter decarbonisation targets.

Associations and trade bodies representing the UK building engineering sector both during and outside of COP26 have called on the government to consider stronger commitments to low carbon heat and retrofit work.

These would go beyond those in the recently published Heat and Buildings Strategy, according to campaigners.

Mr Drechsler called for the industry to continue to push for more ambitious policy changes. One such example was around introducing reforms of the existing VAT regime on building refurbishment work and products in order to support the decarbonisation of buildings.

He said, “The government has made 36 ‘U’ turns in the last 18 months so you can be hopeful that the things you are campaigning for can still happen…including improvements to the apprenticeship levy.”

Workforce changes

BESA President Neil Brackenridge also spoke at the event about ensuring the industry did more to listen to younger engineers and create opportunities for them to lead projects and further build skills.

He said, “Amidst all the controversy and noise around COP26, it was noticeable how many young people were galvanised by it.”

“Young engineers need to be part of the bigger discussion and the climate change crisis is a great opportunity to showcase the opportunities and brilliant careers we offer in this sector.”

Mr Brackenridge also called for better collaboration between contractors, manufacturers, colleges and schools to address what he called a lack of technical competence in a range of vital areas for the industry. Such a collaboration would be vital to ensure a “fully trained, competent, and technically compliant workforce”, added the BESA president.

He said, “For too long, we have seen young people coming out of the education process with the wrong skills.”

“BESA is involved in a major piece of work to update apprenticeships and other forms of technical training. This will make sure we are equipping the next generation with the skills employers need to push forward the net zero and quality building agenda.”

He said that there was a welcome shift within education towards more vocational training. However, this focus needed to be realised on a much larger scale and at a faster pace, according to Mr Brackenridge.

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