Actuate UK commissioned research shows urgent need for action

New industry research reveals urgent need for action to tackle the net zero skills challenge

The UK's Net Zero ambitions are currently hindered by an acute skills shortage that hampers the design, development, supply, installation, inspection, and maintenance of legacy, current, new, and innovative systems. This was the conclusion of Energy Systems Catapult’s (ESC) new report commissioned by Actuate UK, the engineering services alliance.

ESC interviewed and surveyed professionals from across the built environment sector to examine perspectives on net zero skills, the context for those and the opportunities that addressing them might represent.

Surveying industry professionals over the last year, the report reveals a worrying picture of skills shortages, lack of awareness and the need for a cultural shift. The report also examines the context and opportunities related to net zero skills issues and has suggested a comprehensive three-part framework to address these challenges: Awareness, Action, and Advantage.


  • Awareness of the need to decarbonise buildings is inconsistent and abstract. Clear definitions of what net zero buildings are, encompassing the full lifecycle of the building, will be central to setting the course for upskilling the sector.
  • Partnerships that educate clients about net zero buildings and how to commission them could play a key role in supporting increasing demand and investment in quality.
  • There is widespread awareness of an existing skills shortage. Without urgent action, an increasing need to deliver net zero buildings will only exacerbate this.


  • A framework of targeted activities, regulations, standards and processes will be needed to deliver net zero buildings. Industry needs to play a central role in defining, driving and delivering this, partnering with government where necessary to build a landscape which facilitates this.
  • Trade organisations have a vital role in articulating the skills needs and tailoring these activities to specific sectors as well as government to help educate and drive the industry to deliver.
  • Action should focus on easily accessible training that consistently delivers high-quality outcomes and on bringing new, diverse talent into the sector. Promoting upskilling, the integration of new skills and mobility of skills within and beyond the sector could help refresh and reset the culture within the industry.


  • Competing on the basis of quality will drive diversification - offering clients a far greater range of options that they currently have - and investment in skills and innovation.
  • Businesses, organisations and individuals who demonstrate a lifelong appetite for learning and development will be in highest demand, driving a sector and culture that strives for continuous improvement and high quality.

Delivering net zero buildings is a technical challenge. But creating a sector which – at every level – understands that challenge, embraces it and takes ownership and responsibility for addressing it requires a profound culture shift. A shared understanding of the vision – at task, project and sector level – and productive, collaborative behaviours will be crucial to building and embedding the right technical skills in the most effective way.

Helen Yeulet, Director of Training and Skills of Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), who also leads the Actuate UK Skills Group, commented:

“The report shows that we are at a tipping point for the industry’s skills capacity. There is a clear consensus that the industry needs to  drive cultural change with Government providing supportive incentives. 

We want to work with our partners in Actuate UK and beyond to define the industry’s skills needs and training solutions which will be ensure the industry can achieve readiness for delivering on our net zero targets” she said.

Commenting on the report, Andrew Eldred, Director of Workforce and Public Affairs at ECA, and deputy chair of the Actuate UK Skills group, added:

“High-quality training standards and delivery at scale are essential for the UK’s successful transition to net zero. The report confirms that we need a concentrated strategy to recruit and upskill thousands of engineering services workers to meet these standards. As explained in Chris Skidmore’s independent review Mission Zero skills shortfalls in key engineering professions can threaten to derail the UK’s plans for decarbonizing buildings and preparing the UK for a net zero economy.

It was encouraging to see in the industry respondents that there is an appetite for the right net zero training. However, we need to ensure high-quality training for net zero is available throughout, from our new apprentices to the current experienced workers who need to upskill and update their knowledge and experience.”

Rob Hargraves, Retrofit Skills Advisor, at Energy Systems Catapult said: “If we think of the scale that is required to meet government installation targets, then we desperately need a lot more engineers and a lot more people working in retrofit in general, but also greater focus on defining and delivering against net zero outcomes for new buildings too. Getting to Net Zero requires a wholesale change in thinking on skills. It will require us to take a holistic approach. Making sure the skills are there. Making sure the standards are enforced and upheld. Making sure there is an informed customer base.

“As technologies evolve, we need to be ready to evolve our approach to training and the regulatory environment. That is our skills focus at the Catapult – ensuring that we have a collaborative mix of skills to assess, design, and install the clean tech we need to meet our ambitious climate goals.

Some of the key report findings:

The current skills gap will continue to grow without focused action. 

  • 73% of the survey respondents felt that the sector, as it is now, will not be able to deliver quality net zero buildings at scale. 
  • 68% of respondents did not feel it was easy for their company or organisation to find people with the right skills, &
  • 63% did not expect that it would be easy to find staff with the right skills in 5 years’ time.

 Cultural change is needed.

  • 73% respondents felt that cost and time to deliver take priority over quality.
  • Responses suggest the current prioritisation of cost over quality should be reversed.

Who can drive this change?

  • There was no clear consensus among industry respondents about who should drive change. The biggest divergence in view was for government involvement – some felt strongly that government should not drive change, feeling instead that net zero targets needed to be depoliticised.
  • By contrast, 80% expected involvement of industry bodies, contractors and subcontractors and clients and these opinions were evenly distributed.

You can access the full report here and on the Energy Systems Catapult website:

More on the report and research project:

The report is based on the research project launched last year which surveyed the industry looking at skills issues on relation to net zero targets and asked how they could be tackled; the report was commissioned by Actuate UK and funded by the Engineering Services Training Trust Ltd (ESTTL),

The outcomes in this report will be shared with partner industry organisations in Actuate UK and other stakeholders with an interest in net zero targets and their delivery.

Energy Systems Catapult  are the Net Zero energy innovation experts. The Catapult is an independent, not for profit, centre of excellence for energy systems innovation and transformation for net zero. The Catapult has been working on understanding the skills needed to address the transition to net zero for more than two years. It has reviewed the work of the industry and of academics, and has had regular communication with the government and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. This has allowed it to develop a comprehensive picture of the challenges, and to better understand the competencies required.

About Energy Systems Catapult                                      

Energy Systems Catapult was set up to accelerate the transformation of the UK’s energy system towards Net Zero and ensure UK businesses and consumers capture the opportunities of clean growth.

The Catapult is an independent, not-for-profit centre of excellence for energy system innovation and transformation for Net Zero, that bridges the gap between industry, government, academia and research. We take a whole systems view of the energy sector, helping us to identify and address innovation priorities and market barriers, in order to decarbonise the energy system at the lowest cost.

Actuate UK welcomes critical Net Zero report at five year anniversary

02 July 2024

Engineering services alliance, Actuate UK,  warmly welcomes the landmark report ‘At a Crossroads: Pathways to a Net Zero Future’ published by the Mission Zero Coalition. The report throws a spotlight on clean energy and power generation. The engineering services industry, as part of the supply chain, are key to delivering this aspect of the UK’s net zero ambitions. Actuate UK contributed content of the report as a supporter of the Misson Zero Coalition.

Engineering & Building Services Skills Authority unveil work to codify competences & standards for industry

29 January 2024

The Engineering and Building Services Skills Authority (EBSSA) are inviting multiple installer disciplines to begin codifying standards and competences for the sector. This initiative is part of wider industry and government efforts to ‘raise the bar’ on individual competence within the built environment in line with the new post-Grenfell competence regime established by the Building Safety Act.