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See how a business is leading the way in raising awareness of new techniques supported by skills and partnerships.

First published:
28 February 2023
Last updated:
Robert Price, builders’ merchant.

Builders’ merchant leading the way

Robert Price is the largest independent builders’ merchants in south east Wales. Its network of 28 branches supplies house builders, private and commercial contractors, public sector organisations, self-builders, local tradesmen and DIYers.

It was first established in 1847 so perhaps it’s no surprise that a business that has gone from strength to strength for more than 175 years is now leading the way in terms of sustainability.

In response to the increasing demand for environmental change, Robert Price has created the Sustainable Energy Centre. It is designed to showcase and educate customers on a wide range of innovative, sustainable products including air and ground source heat pumps, solar Photovoltaic (pv), electric vehicle charging points, battery storage, internal and external wall insulation and even insulation paint.

Kassie Williams is the business’s Sustainability Manager:

We saw an exponential increase in the number of enquiries for decarbonisation products from housing associations. They wanted to learn more about the different products available but there was nowhere providing joined up solutions. That’s when we decided to set up the Sustainable Energy Centre.

Working with specialist manufacturers, our chosen product solutions are on display in a dedicated showroom and we hold regular open days, inviting local authority and housing association teams to come and speak to the different suppliers about their products.

Since establishing the centre, Robert Price has reached out and engaged with more than 30 social landlords:

We’re really proud of our work with social landlords. While we are helping to reduce carbon, homes are becoming better insulated and are heated more efficiently so bills are cheaper. This is now, more than ever before, a high priority for tenants and residents due to the rising energy prices. As well as this, a well-insulated and ventilated home provides a safe and healthy living environment. The technologies we showcase are designed to reduce and remove issues such as condensation and damp that can cause health issues.

While sustainability products are readily available to purchase, Robert Price recognised a need to upskill and offer accredited training for operatives, installers, general builders and trades to be able to fit and maintain them. It decided to launch a training academy.

Kassie added:

Although new technologies and solutions are available, there is a need for training or retraining the construction workforce and with the push for a net-zero public sector by 2030, we wanted to help educate people in decarbonisation. And it’s not just about the people coming through into the sector, it’s the current workforce too.

It can be a challenge to encourage existing contractors to take time out of paid work to carry out training. But many have been able to access Personal Learning Accounts which offers flexible courses and qualifications, fully funded by the Welsh Government.

Personal Learning Accounts offer flexible courses and qualifications so that people can train around existing responsibilities. PLAs support individuals who might wish to progress in a current job or change careers altogether. To support Wales’ transition to net zero, the eligibility salary cap has been removed for those upskilling or reskilling in the sectors of construction, engineering and manufacturing, thanks to an additional investment of £2m by Welsh Government.

Together with a third-party training provider, Robert Price has in fact delivered more than 6000 hours of green skills training to date as well as a further 1500 hours of product education awareness training.

It has collaborated with TPAS Cymru, which works with landlords and tenants in Wales to help shape housing services, to host a Net Zero Engagement Club for social housing staff. It has also taken the Sustainable Energy Centre on the road, reaching out to social housing teams through roadshows.

Williams says that occupations are already evolving as a result of the drive to achieve Net Zero in Wales:

Traditional careers are without a doubt changing. Roofers are now receiving training in solar pv installation. The new, infra-red heating will need to be installed by plasterers. And we will see even more change in the years to come.

The big push to date has been with social landlords but private homes are beginning to demand more eco-friendly and energy efficient building materials so we will see the skills required by private contractors evolving too.

Dusi Thomas is Sustainability and Environmental Manager at Bron Afon which provides community housing in Torfaen:

We have been working with Robert Price and, thanks to the PLA programme, we have been able to develop the right skillsets and capacity among our workforce and that of our supply chain. We have been able to upskill one of our regular contractors, and a few in-house members of staff, to deliver Retrofit Assessment.

The PLA programme is most certainly helping support Bron Afon in the delivery of our strategic commitment on the decarbonisation of homes.

Personal Learning Accounts provide flexible courses and qualifications, which are fully funded by the Welsh Government. They allow individuals to study part-time around their existing responsibilities, enabling them to obtain the skills and qualifications needed to support or change career or progress in a current job. Study takes place through a college in Wales, either online or face to face or a combination of both.

The Welsh Government has invested an additional £2m in 2022 to 2023 to support individuals to upskill or reskill in specific sectors of construction, engineering and manufacturing to help Wales’ transition to net zero. This additional element will remove the eligibility cap on salary and will focus on industry approved qualifications.