How should the UK enhance its green skills?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a high-carbon country in possession of net-zero targets must be in want of green skills. But how do we develop and retain the skills we need to deliver a low-carbon economy? The Environment asked the experts

UK100 chief executive Polly Billington

The transition to net zero will affect more than six million people’s jobs. Three million will need upskilling and retraining to deliver it. The rest face even greater demand for their skills. The first industrial revolution left many Britons behind. The green industrial revolution cannot do so too.

Central to the green industrial revolution is retrofitting draughty homes to improve energy efficiency. The cheapest green energy is the energy we don’t use. Construction and manufacturing are most affected by net zero, with the highest proportion of jobs in demand and requiring upskilling.

To deliver a retrofit revolution, local leaders are most agile in responding to local needs. They have proven success delivering the Green Homes Grant programme and deliver more bang for the taxpayers buck.

As Wiltshire Council leader and chair of the UK100 Countryside Climate Network Richard Clewer explains: [Retrofit] is important, not just in tackling housing emissions but to give education providers and businesses in the area confidence to invest in greener skills and to build the local supply chain.

Our investment in our own building stock is levelling up our area and building a more resilient workforce – both equally important to a prosperous future.

Youth Employment UK executive director Sharon Blyfield and chief executive Laura-Jane Rawlings

The starting point must be who educates the educators about the green skills we need. The UK is reactive not proactive. We need the right people to set the direction to deliver new skills and to accelerate this for school leavers.

For people in work, the landscapes are changing already. In our own organisation it’s how we recycle our plastics, reduce our energy use and work to become carbon-neutral. It’s typically manufacturers producing new technologies that fill that gap.

We make things very complicated for ourselves; how many 13-15 year-olds understand what we’re talking about? Is it new kinds of jobs or a new skills base for future jobs? Young people can’t see or touch these new careers. When they don’t connect, they don’t feel inspired.

Many feel the green sector is for engineers or for ecowarriors – those already brilliant at recycling and cutting their emissions. But we need green engineering and manufacturing, marketing and business administration.

The green sector must be for everyone – for people like us, who may forget which bin to put out on Sundays.

These barriers apply to digital skills, too. We need more people in education who get it. We need to think about the language we use. And we need better role models; influencers who can inspire change. Young people are pushed into such important choices so early. We cannot assume everyone understands the skills were talking about.

So many young people really don’t.

Education and Training Foundation national head of education for sustainable development Charlotte Bonner

To enhance the UK’s green-skills base, we need more than green jobs to enable the transition. All industries and sectors must adapt to meet UK targets. We need education for sustainable development (ESD) to prepare and equip learners with knowledge, skills, behaviours and agency to contribute to sustainability in their lives and careers.

ESD also seeks to create social justice and develop economic opportunities that deliver a fairer, healthier and sustainable future. Investing in it equips young people for their futures, develops the workforce in an evolving economy and supports reskilling and professional progression – something employees need and employers seek now.

ESD is increasingly recognised as a core component of quality education. All learners need to be sustainability learners. We must equip education and training to bring ESD into its own teaching and learning practice. This isn’t widespread – 74 per cent of teachers feel inadequately trained to deliver high-quality, impactful sustainability education.

And despite numerous policy documents about green jobs and decarbonisation, investing in teachers is often taken for granted. We must embed ESD across education – to repurpose education and training to explicitly tackle sustainability and social inequality.

1851 Trust chief executive Ben Cartledge

We must help the education sector to embed climate science in secondary schools to tackle the green-skills shortage head on and inspire young people to play their role in tackling climate change.

A survey by Teach the Future found more than 70 per cent of teachers feel ill-equipped to teach sustainability – alarming, but not surprising. Climate change and sustainability feature more prominently in the new national curriculum for 2023, which is welcome and overdue. But in a sector facing increasing pressures and staff turnover, we urge theindustry to support educators with this challenge.

We need to showcase the scientists tackling our biggest environmental challenges to inspire the next generation. Young people need a holistic education that empowers them and develops confidence. We need to get young people involved with citizen science to feel part of the solution.

Our recent survey with Hubbub revealed that what stops nearly a third of 11-16 year-olds taking action to be more environmentally friendly is that they’re unclear what really makes a difference.

We hope to change that. The 1851 Trust aims to improve climate education for a million UK school pupils launching a digital platform, Protect Our Future. It will be free to use and packed with science-based knowledge, inspiration and practical actions that appeal to young people.

Association for Consultancy and Engineering director of people, skills and culture Claire Clifford

Last year Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) members joined Construction Leadership Council (CLC) discussions about the government’s Green Jobs Taskforce report. The evidence suggested the sector is investing in skills to deliver net-zero carbon emissions and is committed to attract, recruit and develop new and existing talent.

However, the built-environment sector must appeal to a more diverse talent pool and avoid construction’s traditional imagery trade roles, hard hats and large-scale construction projects. That’s such a narrow view of the sector’s career opportunities in 2022.

Green skills point to much broader career opportunities. Many required skills are behavioural – effective teamwork, resilience and problem solving may not require a high-vis jacket or steel-capped boots. But they bring significant value to employers to meet new environmental demands and our attraction and retention strategies must include them.

Many of our members already talk to students and young people about the varied roles and highlight what innovation and creativity our sector needs to tackle climate change. Many address primary-school children. Tapping into their passions and interests is vital to create a pipeline of talent to tackle sustainability, carbon reduction and ecosystem enhancement.

Once a child has chosen options and started A-levels it may be too late to influence their career choices.

Influencing traditional routes into the industry matters too. Apprenticeship standards now include behavioural skills and digital elements. And companies are investing ever more to upskill existing employees.

Retaining experienced practitioners’ expertise is also vital to build a cohesive, multi-generational workforce. We need diversity of thought and socio-economic backgrounds and to encourage non-traditional routes into industry to meet demand for green skills within the built environment.

Environment Agency lead, resourcing and strategic workforce planning Paul Cross

The start of the green industrial revolution is upon us. As the UK looks to build back better and build back greener, now is the time to enhance and invigorate our green skills. 

Peter Drucker said “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Thinking about green skills it’s the phrase I return to. Where are we now, where do we need to be and how do we track, monitor and report our progress?

Young people want to make a difference and play a role in fighting climate change. The skills system is being reformed with new T Levels, apprenticeships, skills bootcamps and occupational traineeships as the national curriculum looks to strengthen climate knowledge. These should create a solid foundation.

We must not forget our existing workforce and the impacts as current jobs are phased out and new ones emerge, pivoting skills to embrace these opportunities. The Lifetime Skills Guarantee is a step in the right direction, offering almost 400 fully funded qualifications for any adult without a Level 3 (A Level equivalent) qualification.

We must identify the roles and skills we will need tomorrow to start retraining people now. The digital transformation will play a huge role in the green industrial revolution. Evolving the workforce to embrace and exploit this will be critical to the UK’s success.

Ashden chief executive Harriet Lamb

The UK’s approach to green skills is horribly disjointed. If you’re a young person looking to join the low-carbon economy – or a builder hoping to retrain – your journey to a fulfilling job can feel like wading through concrete.

We need a new, systematic approach starting with schools. The government’s new sustainability and climate-change strategy should boost teaching of climate change but there’s not enough support to make school buildings zero carbon. Turning our draughty and crumbling schools into beacons of sustainability will engage young people.

Colleges also have a crucial role to play. But government’s stop-start policies on areas like home retrofit discourage colleges from offering courses and teenagers from signing upwhat if these skills won’t lead to work?

The challenge is bridging the gap between training and good, paid jobs. Innovators can build that bridge. Manchester’s Carbon Co-op trains and upskills builders then connects them with households looking to pay for home energy-efficiency upgrades.

Councils are uniquely placed to link local businesses, colleges and residents with measures tailor-made for local economies. They can also kickstart major projects that promote green skills. North-East Derbyshire District Council’s project to upgrade 324 homes in former mining communities includes training and qualifications for a range of workers.

We can target support to deprived, marginalised communities – developing skills as we tackle fuel poverty and other social challenges. Social housing offers opportunities for home retrofit at speed and scale.

An ambitious and coherent blueprint will power forward a fairer society and boost our green skills base.

TUC policy officer industry and climate Anna Markova

First we need better guidance for young people in schools and further education. Then we need better opportunities to reskill or upskill the adult workforce80 per cent of the UK workforce ten years from now is working already.

Most transformations we need within ten-15 years will be implemented by people working now. So we must give these people access to skills and training to support their transition to a greener economy.

About a tenth of the workforce will need retraining or upskilling. We need training opportunities, funding and support to avoid people paying from their own pockets or taking unpaid time off work to retrain. That’s crucial; people on low wages are struggling to pay the rent and bills as food and energy prices soar.

Too few employers think ahead. We’ve seen a slew of announcements about getting to net zero by 2030 or 2040 from companies still working out the details. Many rushed out targets for COP26. Now comes the hard part, working out the impacts for operations, technological challenges and what must diversify or change. That’s where impacts on the workforce come in. Employers – especially those with high emissions or tied into high-carbon supply chains – must plan in partnership with workforce unions.

The Italian chemicals firm ENI has reached a global framework agreement with its workforce. A multinational, it has done this in every jurisdiction it operates in, with a just-transition deal that covers decarbonisation impacts on the workforce.

In the UK, the Royal Mail has collaborated with the unions on its transition to a zero-emissions fleet. In planning to switch all deliveries to zero-emissions fleet by 2030, it has held full consultations and listened to workforce concerns.

The TUC estimates that 600,000 UK jobs – particularly in manufacturing and high-carbon industries – depend on government and companies to act to protect them against offshoring, to avoid negative impacts from the switch to net zero.

LinkedIn senior manager public policy Karim Palant

The UK’s workforce is ahead of the curve in making the transition to green. But although green hiring accelerated during the pandemic we need more green skills across all sectors to equip businesses and workers to reach the UK’s urgent net-zero targets. This will take a whole-economy effort.

There are three key ways that the UK can improve its green-skills base. Policymakers must ensure join-up in green skills, jobs and broader green economic policies to balance development with demand and transformation in the skills marketplace. Businesses are best placed to identify their future skills needs; business leaders must work with skills providers, government and those looking to develop their skills.

Second, to level up the UK economy we need regional targeting of policies and funding to reflect needs and realities on the ground, focusing on greener chemical manufacturing in the northeast and on greener energy generation around the Humber or in technology. A local, data-driven approach will help to match skills to opportunity.

Finally, delivering an equitable green-skills revolution means addressing systemic inequalities. Policymakers must understand the impacts of skill discrepancies on historically disadvantaged groups and distribute the opportunities that green skills present as widely as possible.

That means removing barriers including to information and taking a skills-based approach to hiring and workplace training.

Make UK chief executive Stephen Phipson

UK manufacturing will play a critical role in achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Manufacturers’ priority is equipping their workforce with the skills they need now and for the future. Although nearly two-thirds believe their businesses have the technical skills to produce goods more sustainably, the challenge of net zero is that how employers think about their skills strategies is constantly evolving.

Green skills gaps are emerging in technical skills – which increasingly need higher skill levels, including up to degree level and in innovation. Around three quarters of firms named this as they invest in clean digital technologies to improve productivity and optimise resource use. We also need leadership and management skills to drive change and implement new, efficient processes and operations across firms.

How can government help employers to invest in green skills? A new green-skills tax credit would support training across the workforce. Giving employees access to a lifelong digital-skills account would encourage retraining and upskilling to gain all-important digital skills. Education and training must also reflect growing demand for higher-level technical skills and support employers to upskill and retrain existing employees.

Above all, policy-makers and industry must work together on this. Make UK has developed a set of green-skills guiding principles for manufacturers. Government must act to help manufacturing to develop the green skills to reduce carbon emissions.

STEM Explored director Caroline Sudworth

To achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, we need greater focus on the built environment sector, which generates some 40 per cent of UK emissions.

The Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education (IFATE) aims for all occupations to embed its sustainability framework to develop green skills. We must contextualise this to the built environment to enable apprenticeships, technical and higher-level education to modernise and future proof this sector.

It will take years to devise apprenticeships and technical education pathways to create a housing-retrofit workforce. We must upskill the existing workforce through shorter CPD programmes and fund these appropriately as we educate and support consumer change.

Despite little focus on green skills and competences to address challenges of infrastructure and retrofitting commercial buildings, solutions are emerging.

The new environmental practitioner degree apprenticeship aims to attract and develop new talent. Employers and universities are working together to deliver and it and gain professional recognition. Six English universities offer the programme and ever more employers seek to place their apprentices on it.

Civil and building services engineering apprenticeships now allow employers to mandate the inclusion of skills for net zero. Education and training providers must incorporate embodied carbon, design, delivery and operation of the built environment, integration between natural and built environments and strategic links to towns and transport.

There is more focus on enabling skills; digital technologies, information and data management to model and improve performance and integration of modern construction methods to mitigate energy consumption and waste.

Delivering the UK’s 2050 net-zero goals needs more focus on apprenticeships, technical and higher education and on traditional routes into the professions. Employers must collaborate with government, education, training providers and professional bodies to devise and commit to long-term education and skills programmes to create a bigger, more competent workforce to deliver real change.

Cambridge Spark chief executive and founder Raoul-Gabriel Urma

The solution to enhancing our green-skills base is simple; it all comes down to data. How can any organisation contribute to the UKs 2050 net-zero carbon emissions goal if it doesn’t have the data skills to measure its current impact?
Whether you’re working on low-carbon projects, creating efficiencies in logistics or identifying ways to cut costs in manufacturing, data drives effective decision making and keeps companies laser-focused on their challenges.

Regardless of your vision for sustainability or ideas for solutions, you must gather and analyse huge volumes of data to understand current problems to quantify the solutions’ impact. Cambridge Spark has noted growing demand for people with data-science skillsand that it’s increasingly difficult to find and keep people with this knowledge and experience. We offer training solutions funded by the apprenticeship levy, a UK government skills policy promoted under the Build Back Greener Campaign.

It offers UK employers a mechanism to educate their workforce with green-data skills to use cutting edge data science to tackle sustainability challenges. The scale of the green-skills shortage is such that we are developing a specialised curriculum, data science for sustainability, to increase our apprentices’ impacts.

Being able to analyse data to measure and report impact will be invaluable. Without it, achieving net-zero emissions is an unknown.

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