With the calls of climate emergency sounding loudly from COP27, government and citizens need to act urgently if we are to meet the UK’s net zero commitments.
However, the transition to net zero will only be possible with a skilled “green” UK workforce to build, operate and maintain the necessary assets for energy, retrofit and carbon capture, as well as related infrastructure in the logistics, utilities and transportation industries. While the UK has strong engineering, science and technology skills to support the drive to net zero, it lacks enough people, particularly within the operational workforce and mainly at level 2, to build, operate and maintain “green” physical environmental assets.
There is also confusion about what is meant by “green skills” and what these mean at a practical level for technical and vocational education.
To resolve these key issues, there is an urgent need for collaboration between employers, training providers, awarding organisations, manufacturers, trade unions and all the industry bodies such as CITB and ECITB on a co-ordinated five to ten-year programme to meet our commitments.
Collaboration on green skills is happening on a local level through green skill bootcamps, for example, where employers, training providers and awarding organisations work together, funded and guided by government policy.
Exeter College’s green construction skills bootcamps are a case in point, designed in collaboration with local building and house construction businesses, and supported by local authorities, charities and training providers across the south west. Funded by the Department for Education’s national skills fund, the bootcamps offer hands-on training for domestic retrofit, resulting in a NOCN level 2 award in domestic retrofit.
Central government needs to own the governance of the skills system and work in collaboration with the devolved governments and local combined authorities to set the framework, enabling awarding organisations to build training programmes for local provider delivery.
The green jobs taskforce made a start, outlining the challenge in its 2021 report, but there is little evidence of any urgency in next steps or in wider collaboration to build a green skills framework for career pathways. Yet within each industry there are strong links, and these could be quickly integrated with the taskforce to create industry-appropriate frameworks.
Our new paper Greening the UK’s Skills, in conjunction with the British Association of Construction Heads (BACH), outlines the challenges we face and sets out the range of adapted and new skills the UK’s economy will urgently need over the next five to ten years if we are to be successful in reaching net zero.
We must, as a priority, invest in our tutors and assessors to deliver greening training. This will not be large courses like apprenticeships and T levels, but will be short modules of training, add-ons that could be funded through the levy or the adult education budget (AEB). The big opportunity is using these “greening” modules to upskill the 32.8m people in the workforce.
Some colleges may find this logistically difficult. The challenge for FE leaders is how to start delivering “greening” provision in 2023/24.
Welcoming the publication of the report, IfATE’s chief operating officer Robert Nitsch said: “There can be no doubt that there is a need to re-orientate to green across the economy and that skills are an essential part of this.” He said that IfATE was “absolutely committed to ensuring that its apprenticeships and technical qualifications fully embrace sustainability priorities and is getting on with this work as a matter of urgency” and emphasised that everyone had a part in resolving what is a sizeable challenge.
The great risk facing the planet is climate change. If we are to successfully tackle this life-threatening challenge we must collaborate across government departments, industry and education to develop and build our green skills within the operational workforce, including – crucially – at level 2.