Green apprenticeships: A matter of skills supply and demand

Net zero will be met by harnessing young people’s enthusiasm and ensuring everyone can train meaningfully for green jobs, say Beth Chaudhary and Rachel Cooper

Net zero will be met by harnessing young people’s enthusiasm and ensuring everyone can train meaningfully for green jobs, say Beth Chaudhary and Rachel Cooper

13 Dec 2022, 5:00

In 2009, the Climate Change Act made history. We were the first country to set out in law the path to achieving net zero by 2050. The department of energy and climate change (DECC) was also the first of its kind at the time. Thirteen years on, the abiding message from COP27 is that we need to redouble our efforts. Legally binding targets have provided certainty about the scale of the change we need to make to go green, and we know training will be central to that transition.

In 2009, we were part of the small fuel poverty review team that first developed the warm home discount and energy company obligation which have proved vital in supporting the most vulnerable households through the current cost-of-living crisis. The latter has also driven increasing demand for retrofitting homes with new insulation and heating.

Now at IfATE, we are pleased to be able to support retrofit from the supply side too. Employers tell us they need retrofit skills in the workforce. We are therefore prioritising retrofit skills within the standards that underpin apprenticeships and technical qualifications, convening employers and industry experts at pace to update current standards and developing a new occupational standard, the ‘Retrofit Co-ordinator’.

But retrofit is just one of many new and emerging skills needed to achieve the transition to net zero.

The Government has set an ambition for two million green jobs by 2030. There are already over 420,000 jobs in low-carbon businesses and their supply chains (with an estimated turnover of £41.2 billion in 2020), but that leaves huge scope for further growth.

In addition, 80 per cent of the 2030 workforce is already in work. So, reaching net zero by 2050 will require government and industry to work together fast on training and retraining.

Sustainable supply of green skills

Our green advisory panel of expert employers has made good progress with transforming apprenticeships and technical education. Over the past year, they have been testing whether apprenticeships meet green jobs task force recommendations and where we need to develop new standards.

Their work has found that around 100 standards contribute to climate change and environmental goals, with many more up for revision to make them greener. This includes:

  • upgrades to existing apprenticeships, for example to train aspiring electricians to install and maintain domestic heat pumps, solar panels and electric vehicle charging points
  • specialist occupations, like ecologist and countryside ranger
  • apprenticeships designed to help any businesses improve their impact

We have also built partnerships to better understand the green skills required for the future workforce. Apprenticeships and technical qualifications must provide businesses with employees who can use and apply these new skills and technologies and be agents of change within their organisations.

Sustained demand from trainees

The other crucial part of the puzzle is capitalising on demand from younger people. Learning and Work Insitute research found that 80 per cent of them consider it important that they work for an organisation committed to tackling climate change.

Learning green skills also makes financial sense; individuals employed in green industries earn approximately 7 per cent more than those working in non-green industries.

To harness this enthusiasm and earning potential, government and education settings must do a better job of highlighting and promoting green training opportunities. To make that much easier, IfATE is developing interactive new occupational maps to show which career pathways help tackle climate change and what apprenticeships and technical qualifications at all skills levels support people into them.

So that’s the plan. Trace the impact of the net zero targets down to the sectors where change is needed, engage employers to discuss the roles and skills that will enable a successful transition, and work at pace to translate that into world-class apprenticeships and technical education, promoted brilliantly to everyone.

We have come a long way since 2009, but there is a long road ahead. We’ve led the way before, and with a focus on workforce training we can keep leading the world to a sustainable future.

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