At their recent conference, the Labour party announced plans for a publicly owned clean energy company – Great British Energy – to create 220,000 new jobs and lower bills.
Unlike the Conservatives, who backpedalled on energy efficiency targets, Labour focused on our sector, declaring an ambition to create a National Wealth Fund and set up a series of new technical colleges to help fill significant skills gaps in the built environment. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves also promised to invest in jobs for engineers, in green hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, offshore wind and even more pertinently, jobs retrofitting homes in “every village, every town and every city across our country”. I applaud their aspiration, and if Labour does come to power, look forward to seeing how they will go about it.
Ambition is also imperative if you’re going to move forward as a company and it’s something I’ve been pondering during conversations about possibly acquiring or merging with another company. Chartered surveyors generally are now building their knowledge around energy performance, and I’m pleased our professional body, the RICS, is finally talking about green issues. I’m even starting to approach them for technical guidance which I haven’t done for the last 15 years. As they develop professional standards on Domestic Retrofit, I feel that my RICS membership is becoming more aligned with our day-to-day work as Energy Assessors. We’re already talking to – and collaborating with – many different organisations and professionals, and we certainly have a higher profile in the North West.
However, I’m conscious that we don’t lose the ‘Murton & Co voice’ as we evolve. If we decide on an M&A route, it will be crucial to get the people we employ right as much as the process – and that will inevitably depend on hiring or possibly retraining more top-notch Energy Assessors with the right mindset, or at least working more closely with entrepreneurial Assessors who we can use as sub-contractors. It’s evident that many Energy Assessors are of an age where they’ve had a career and aren’t looking for further training or a change of job, so it’s the next generation we need to focus on, particularly school leavers.
If training courses for these young people are going to be developed (potentially under a new administration) we’ll need input and ideas about how a more comprehensive content could raise costs and fees. Courses currently teach trainees to collect and input data, however, we need a curriculum that incorporates practical aspects. It shouldn’t just be about sitting in a classroom and doing a knock test on a wall; the next generation of Assessors need to understand the fundamentals of how a building has been constructed and how heat loss, moisture and ventilation all contribute to the overall energy efficiency. I’ve seen too many Energy Assessors rely on the software to spit out the results of an assessment without having much of a clue about how to interpret the results. How are clients going to understand if their professional Energy Assessor doesn’t either? Maybe this lack of knowledge and understanding is down to the training courses or about the value that has been put on the Energy Assessment or EPC. It’s certainly true that in the past the EPC was merely a piece of paper to enable a transaction, but since the introduction of Minimum EPC Standards and a focus on carbon footprint, the EPC and Energy Assessment is very much front and central. You can’t build, rent, sell or fund a building without an EPC.
We’ll always need the ‘tick box brigade’, but the sector also needs curious people and those who can interpret data and think outside that tick box – which comes from experience as well as decent training. I recently assessed a large health centre building where the main hot water cylinder was effectively hidden in the plant room. There was a cylinder with 145 litres clearly evident, but when you consider that the average hot water demand is 20 litres per person, this was obviously not the main cylinder. Armed with this basic level of knowledge, you’re then on the hunt to find it.
There is a lot to take on board in the training courses and with just four days of classroom learning there will be information either not delivered or not taken down. The difference between 145 litres and 1,000 litres of hot water can affect the EPC rating and hence any advice on enhancement strategies. When training to become a Chartered Surveyor, I shadowed a fully qualified colleague for a couple of years, and while we don’t have that kind of stringent requirement for Energy Assessors, perhaps we could employ some blue sky thinking to address the lack of practical experience. Maybe trainees could use virtual reality headsets, working on simulated properties under assessment conditions?
I’m a sucker for new technology and like to think I’m perennially curious. At a recent trade show aimed at electricians, I was on the panel discussing retrofit where it was refreshing to chat with tradespeople from different sectors. I even got to check out a new MVHR (Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery) unit which was a first. I do know about MVHR, how they work and have seen them on Google, but never in the flesh. Sometimes there’s no substitute for getting up close to kit rather than reading an instruction manual. It’s also good to see the bigger picture and talk to people about their challenges – which is basically the job of an Energy Assessor. While hopefully managing to impart some knowledge, I helped hook up a lighting designer with a customer. Perhaps I even gave some of those electricians a light bulb moment…