“You can’t always play it safe”

After almost two-decades, Saskia Ratcliff left a senior position at a housing association to take up a trainee role in construction, fulfilling her passion to support the city-region’s net-zero efforts.

Thanks to fully-funded training through Greater Manchester’s three-year Skills for Growth programme, Saskia was able to enrol onto a Level 5 Diploma in Retrofit Coordination and Risk Management and complete the course flexibly alongside full-time employment and personal commitments.

Retrofit is the fitting of new systems designed for high-energy efficiency & low energy consumption to buildings, which were previously built without them.

It’s an industry with growing importance as GM looks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2038.

Saskia said: “It was a really hard decision to leave my old organisation. I had built up a really positive professional reputation but after 18 years I needed a new challenge.

“For a while, I have recognised the incredible task Greater Manchester faces in relation to retrofitting properties and I’ve always had an interest in energy efficiency but it’s a daunting prospect to move into a completely new field without any real backing.

“If Skills for Growth hadn’t offered a degree level qualification, I probably would have stayed put but when a colleague told me about the course, I knew it was the right opportunity.”

In 2021, Greater Manchester Combined Authority awarded Low Carbon Academy a £1.1m contract to enable Retrofit Skills Hub, which is being delivered in partnership with The Retrofit Academy, The Manchester College, Oldham College and Fabric.

The training has been designed to help support a sustainable economy as the city-region recovers from the pandemic, while also meeting Greater Manchester’s target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2038 - 12 years ahead of the national target.

Saskia is now encouraging others to really focus on what they want to achieve with their careers and to make decisions that challenge them in a positive way.

She added: “You can’t always play it safe. I had reached a point where I thought - I either stay in housing until I retire, or I take the plunge while I still can.

“It was a big decision but also the right one. It’s a really good time to get involved with an emerging industry that is only going to grow in importance.

“It would be great to see more women coming through too and I think that will happen as women in retrofit and construction become more visible.

“I think there’s a misconception about what retrofit actually is, which can put some people off but there are a lot of inspiring, qualified and experienced women working in the field and I’m keen to share my journey so others can see what opportunities are available.”

After leaving her housing role in December, Saskia has secured full-time employment with Osmosis Assessment Coordination Design (ACD), a retrofit consultancy supporting large-scale domestic projects across Greater Manchester including in Wigan and Trafford.

Although new to the role, Saskia is already brimming with enthusiasm and ambition.

She continued: “It’s early days but I’m committed to Osmosis ACD, the company’s values and ethos fit with mine and I’m excited about bringing the industry forward.

“I’m also keen to get involved with a network of women in the field who are there to support, give advice and mentor. I’d love to see this happen because the more we encourage diverse perspectives at the table, the more innovatively we can act.

“Sometimes we can get tunnel vision by working in the same way because that’s how it’s always been done but actually, retrofit is about working differently for the benefit of local people.”

Skills for Growth is funded through the European Social Fund and has been designed to plug skills gaps identified by employers in Greater Manchester. As well as supporting businesses to thrive, the programme aims to make career opportunities better accessible to priority groups including women in employment, low-paid workers and the ageing population.

For more information about what GM Skills for Growth training opportunities are available to you, visit our ‘live training programmes’ page.