Research finds rapid growth in skills needed to achieve net zero targets 


01 June 2023

A new report written by Gemserv on behalf of the South West Net Zero Hub working with the region’s Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS) has found that, at current installation rates for heat pumps and insulation, local authorities in the South West will fail to meet targets set to heat homes more sustainably and reduce emissions. 


The objective of the research was to define the gap between current skills and workforce supply and the net zero ambition communicated by local authorities. Many councils across the region have set themselves goals to reach net zero by 2030. With around 20% of UK carbon emissions coming from our homes, to achieve these targets nearly every household in the South West would need to be properly insulated and heated by a heat pump, within the next seven years.  


Gemserv worked with officials, industry representatives and education and training providers across the South West. The research found that, at the current rates of deployment of insulation and heat pumps councils and other regional stakeholders tasked with decarbonising domestic buildings are at severe risk of missing both local and national targets. The report states that, without significant investment in skills and improvements to the supply chain, it could take several hundred years to install the measures needed to heat the region’s homes sustainably and reduce emissions to reach net zero. 


The skills surveys carried out by Gemserv show the need to grow the local workforce rapidly. Skills shortages were identified in a range of roles including retrofit assessors and coordinators, installers of heat pumps, plumbers, heating engineers and technicians, as well as key gaps in the provision of qualifications for insulation and double-glazing. 


The findings will inform several key areas of work within the region: 

  • Supporting the development of funding bids, both at regional, LEP and local authority level  
  • Understanding the overall supply chain and its ability to deliver in the short, medium, and long term 
  • Provide evidence to inform skills commissioning   

Despite obvious challenges, Gemserv’s research identifies opportunities for the South West. The report points out that the region has unique strengths that position it well to expand in the relevant sectors including widespread provision of training for heat pump installers and a skills sector that are aware of the challenges and keen to engage and collaborate. 

The report finds that there is an economic case for fast action on decarbonisation and meeting net zero targets. It estimates that the low carbon heating and insulation sectors could contribute up to £21.8 billion to the South West’s £164 billion economy between 2023 and 2050. With the additional benefit of reducing energy bills for consumers. 


The study is the first of its kind for the South West region and will play a significant role for the region, its Local Authorities, and stakeholders through development of future policy, strategy and delivery in training, education, and workforce development over the coming years. 

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Link to full report: South west net zero hub retrofit skills report (


Will Taylor, Senior Low Carbon Consultant at Gemserv, said: “Gemserv is proud to support the South West Net Zero Hub in undertaking this research. It is critical that action to accelerate net zero is based on clear evidence. The South West is experiencing skills shortages in areas critical to the net zero transition. However, we found that there is a clear economic benefit to the region in these changes and some obvious strengths on which to build The South West can now take informed action to drive change with the support of people across the region.” 


Jon Rattenbury, South West Net Zero Hub Manager, said: “This research provides the evidence of the skills shortage in the South West which makes delivering our collective net zero goals more difficult to achieve.  It is also clear that we can use our local and regional strengths to address this and by working together grow the sector at a faster pace to realise both the economic and decarbonisation potential. We will now consider how we implement the recommendations in the report, working collaboratively across the region.” 


This theme is rightly gaining traction across the sector, with the recent publication of the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) reports last week on green skills highlights the importance of regional green jobs and skills data to inform the net zero transition. Information shortages create a multitude of barriers for all parties to the construction industry from developers, education and training providers and policy makers.