Lack of ‘green’ construction skills threatens UK’s net zero plans


A lack of skilled ‘green collar’ construction workers threatens to derail the UK’s decarbonisation plans and is seeing in-demand trades command annual salaries of over £134,000, according to a new report by Turner & Townsend.

Insulation specialists and solar and heat pump installers in London now typically earn £70 per hour and wages have soared by 22% in the last 12 months.

These trades are now paid two-and-a-half times more than general construction labourers in the capital.

A report by professional services company Turner & Townsend revealed that all UK regions are suffering from an acute shortage of skilled construction workers as competition for labour has pushed costs to record levels.

The company’s International construction market survey (ICMS) 2024 report indicates that rising costs for specialist green contractors are particularly high. Even outside of London, the average UK wage for these specialists is still £47 per hour – around double the cost of general labourers.

Turner & Townsend said the shortage of workers and high wage inflation threatens the UK’s delivery of its binding net zero target. All nine UK regions surveyed reported skills shortages, and 78% of UK markets reported this shortage is already having a ‘major’ or ‘large’ impact on programmes.

Labour cost inflation and the impact of skills shortages is not limited to low carbon development. Overall, average construction wages in the UK have increased by 13% since 2023 – rising from £36 per hour to £42 in 2024.

In welcome news for the sector, the report forecasts average inflation in 2024 will be 3% for the UK, falling from 4.2% in 2023.

Chris Sargent, MD of UK real estate at Turner & Townsend, said, “We’re seeing the rise of the green specialist across the UK. As a nation we have a relatively old and inefficient building stock, and construction is absolutely central to meeting our net zero goals and making our homes, offices and public buildings fit for the future. Fundamentally, this can’t be done without the workforce. Hundreds of thousands of new trained specialists are required to give the sector the capacity it needs for the green transition.

“High wages may make the role more appealing to many, and attract these much needed skills. But green construction cannot afford to be in a separate tier of costs from traditional work. We need to help make net zero achievable and affordable by investing now in building and training the pipeline of skilled workers we need, and by adopting innovative digital tools to improve productivity and outcomes.”

91 global markets were surveyed in the ICMS, including nine key UK regions – London, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow, Newcastle and Belfast.