9 June 2021
Green skills shortage threatens net zero

The government has long maintained that the creation of ‘green jobs’ is the way forward to a net zero future. However, a new report from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) suggests that it’s actually ‘green skills’ that are most needed.

In previous blogs this year, Focus has explored in great detail how the skills shortage within the construction industry is threatening the UK’s legally-binding target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, while the built environment is responsible for a significant percentage of the UK’s carbon emissions, businesses across all sectors of the UK economy must develop the skills required for a greener society.  

Skills, not jobs

Whilst the government’s recently established Green Jobs Taskforce is undoubtedly a positive step in the right direction, tasked as it is with the creation of two million jobs within the environmental services sector, the ARU report suggests this single-minded focus on one sector might discourage existing businesses in other sectors who are also committed to reducing their carbon footprint, but receiving little recognition or funding to do so.

“We found that putting too much focus on creating new green jobs is likely to under-estimate other sectors’ contributions and skills requirements”, report co-author Dr Alison Grieg stated. “Too much emphasis on new green jobs may lead to certain sectors feeling excluded or disenfranchised from this important transition.”

The findings also reinforced the importance of introducing green skills into existing training programmes and curricula, rather than simply creating new ones.

So, what are ‘green skills’?

According to the OECD’s Greener Skills and Jobs report, green skills are ‘those skills needed to adapt products, services and processes to climate change and the related environmental requirements and regulations.’

The United Nationals Industrial Development Organisations (UNIDO) divides green skills into four broad categories in its Green General Skill Index:

  1. Engineering and technical skills – hard skills enabling engineers and technicians to carry out work relating to eco-buildings, renewable energy design and energy-saving research and development (R&D) projects.
  2. Science skills – these are in especially high demand in the utility sector, which provides amenities such as water, sewage services and electricity.
  3. Operation management skills – this involves knowledge relating to the changes in organisational structure required to support green activities. These skills are particularly important for people like sales engineers, climate change analysts, sustainability specialists and transport planners.
  4. Monitoring skills – technical know-how relating to the observance of and adherence to technical criteria and legal standards.

Tackling the shortage

Interest in learning green skills is definitely there, with National Grid reporting that many people, and particularly those aged between 18 and 24, are looking for a career that also helps our planet. At the same time, youth unemployment has soared as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But how can we unite the two?

Well, according to climate change charity Ashden, it’s all about government investment in training – particularly in the sustainable energy and retrofitting sectors. In its report Green Skills: training UK workers for tomorrow’s job market, it calls for a long-term and tailored investment strategy in skills training, including collaboration with further education establishments and funding for innovative training organisations.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is also calling for increased green skills training, with recommendations including the introduction of ‘Jobs and Skills Hubs’, encouraging employers to work alongside the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) to promote ‘green’ career paths, and fast-tracked training pathways such as ‘green skills bootcamps’.

A wider ranging strategy

It is clear that the government’s Green Jobs Taskforce will be unable to fulfil its role without candidates who possess a green skillset – and current government incentives for employers who take on apprentices and traineeships are simply not enough for the enormity of the task ahead. A sustained, long-term approach will certainly be needed to deliver the skills training the employees of the future need.