Homes, particularly draughty ones, are big CO2 emitters, with around 27 million responsible for 28% of UK emissions. If we are to meet the Government’s target of Net Zero by 2050, we will need to retrofit those homes with energy efficient heating and insulation. This is a massive challenge: you would need to retrofit two homes every minute for 25 years to cover all 27 million – which is why the construction industry requires an estimated 400,000 more skilled retrofitters.
Sofia Gentile is a qualified teacher but decided to retrain as a retrofit coordinator when she saw “a real need to help make people’s homes easier and cheaper to keep warm and dry.” She has been on numerous courses since setting up her own business, trading as Retrofitco, early in 2021. Most recently she benefitted from one of the many funded Skills Bootcamps that form part of the Government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, ‘helping everyone gain skills for life’.
“We now offer a full retrofit assessment and coordination service,” Sofia explains. “About 50% of the work involves a detailed assessment of the property’s condition and areas for improving energy efficiency. The other 50% is coordinating the team of builders to carry out all the necessary retrofitting work, including things like loft insulation and external wall insulation.”
From the start, Sofia has worked hard to build her knowledge and skills, paying to put herself through numerous professional training courses. “We handle the entire project now – from survey and design to signing-off the contractors’ work as complete and compliant. It’s vital for our reputation that we get it right – and that means having all the necessary qualifications.”
Meeting new industry standards for retrofitting
One of the earliest courses that Sofia paid to go on was with The Retrofit Academy CIC, which is based in Staffordshire but delivers regulated retrofit qualifications across the country. The leading not-for-profit organisation runs courses that support the new PAS 2035 standard for improved energy efficiency in homes. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) sponsored the creation of this standard in 2019 to help the UK achieve its commitment to Net Zero by 2050.
PAS 2035 provides a framework for new and existing standards on how to conduct effective energy retrofits of existing buildings. It covers how to access buildings for retrofit, identify improvement options, design and specify energy efficiency measures and monitor retrofit projects safely. It includes a robust risk assessment process.
As Adrian Marshall, Business Development Manager at The Retrofit Academy CIC, explains: “Our vision is a world where every home is warm, healthy and low carbon. We deliver retrofit training and qualifications and support the development of the retrofit industry’s capability and capacity. Our mission is to train and develop 200,000 retrofitters by 2030.”
Sofia has already invested in that training and development. “I completed the Retrofit Coordination and Risk Management Level 5 Diploma in 2021. The Retrofit Academy then emailed this summer to say they had received Department for Education funding, via the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, to run free Skills Bootcamps for the Domestic Retrofit Assessment Level 4 Award.
Building a broad portfolio of skills
“This award is vital for my work and covers a different set of skills to the previous course, depending on the role you are undertaking in a retrofit project. It teaches you how to improve your assessment by capturing more data onsite that will enable you to choose the most appropriate measures for the property. I started the online course in early September and, with excellent guidance from my assessor and by working weekends and evenings, completed it within about six weeks.”
Sofia was one of the first women in the East of England’s retrofit industry and now works with local authorities and housing associations across the region. She liaises between contractors, property owners and tenants to coordinate the delivery of high standard retrofitting. She also deals directly with installers, particularly of external wall insulation on pre-1900s properties.
“Everything we do is about protecting the environment but, this winter in particular, it is also about helping people tackle the energy and cost of living crises. I have been lucky to meet loads of people in the industry and to get fantastic support from them along the way. I have in turn passed on my knowledge to my younger brother Simon (who is a talented computer programmer) and he has also recently completed the Level 4 Skills Bootcamp with The Retrofit Academy.”
Sofia has “always felt driven to succeed” but would encourage anyone keen on a career in retrofitting to apply for these Skills Bootcamps. “The fact that they are free for individual learners is a real bonus, particularly when starting out on a career change. As they are mainly online, you can fit most of the training into your spare time and so continue with your day job.”
You could start the New Year building new skills for life.
If you live in Suffolk or Norfolk and want to upskill, or even change career, check out the full range of Skills Bootcamps delivered on behalf of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership. These are fully funded by the Department for Education for individual learners and heavily subsidised for businesses. The Retrofit Academy has places available on its course starting in January 2023.
Find out more about Skills Bootcamps here