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Government must do more to support the skills needed for net zero, report warns

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Inconsistent government policy on green jobs and a knowledge gap in necessary skills are resulting in missed opportunities, a report by the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee has warned.

Released today, the Committee's latest report, titled 'Green Jobs', expresses disappointment that despite announcements committing millions of pounds to green jobs initiatives, the UK government is yet to define what a ‘green job’ is and how it will evaluate the perceived demand.

The 'Net Zero Strategy', which claims to support up to 440,000 jobs by 2030, would have been the ideal opportunity to offer clarity on how to define and measure what ‘green jobs’ are. While the strategy set out the government’s green jobs and skills ambitions, what is needed now is a detailed, actionable delivery plan.

Delay in clarifying this information could lead to the government’s ambitions amounting to little more than an aspiration and failing to prepare the UK for the future. This lack of understanding, the Committee said, was apparent in the 'Green Homes Grant' voucher scheme, where the government failed to engage with the sector to develop the skills required, resulting perversely in contractors making staff redundant as consumers awaited confirmation of vouchers.

During the inquiry, the Committee heard that climate change and sustainability risked being seen as a ‘tick-box exercise’ in education. It is imperative that current and future workforces are both climate and sustainability literate: criteria that must run through all education and training. To achieve this, the Committee recommends that environmental sustainability be embedded across all National Curriculum and A-Level courses and a module on sustainability included in every apprenticeship and T-level course.

This should, in turn, lead to a knock-on effect boosting diversity in the sector. The Committee heard that currently only 9 per cent of engineers are women and only 3.1 per cent of environment professionals identify as ethnic monitories. This leaves a huge proportion of the country where the skills and abilities are not being tapped into. While the government’s commitment to increase diversity and inclusion in the green workforce is welcome, the sentiment is not enough and the government must set out its aims in a measurable way and have a metric for measuring diversity and inclusion, the Committee said.

Careers advice will play a major role in making people aware of the opportunities in green sectors. During a Committee roundtable discussion with young people, MPs heard that advice and information is lacking on what jobs are out there. The Committee recommends that the national 'Careers Strategy' is adapted by the end of this year to align net zero and environmental goals.

The Committee also noted that despite ministers insisting that net zero is embedded across government, its employment schemes – such as Kickstart and Restart – do not embed sustainability. It appears that little future-proofing is being undertaken, with only 1 per cent of Kickstart placements in green sectors. This is despite the promise of ‘shovel ready’ jobs such as walking and cycling infrastructure, nature restoration and energy installation.

Philip Dunne, the Environmental Audit Committee chairman, said:“From renewable energy clusters in the North East and Scotland, to engineering powerhouses in the Midlands and nature conservation in the South West, we are building an economy set for net zero.

“But the workforce of the future is being undermined by a lack of evidence-based government policies on how jobs will be filled in green sectors. Encouraging announcements of investment in green sectors of the economy are very welcome, but the government admits that claims about green jobs lack explanation and data on how the targets will be achieved.

“Our report today sets out how these green jobs roles can be filled. Monitoring the sectors and regions where the jobs are needed, and rebooting careers advice that demystifies green jobs, is critical if we are to meet our environmental goals.”

The Committee also repeated its previous recommendation that a National Nature Service be established. This could provide people with wider employment skills and help build green capacity in the longer term.

Some of the Committee’s recommendations highlighted in the report are:

  • The government should set out its definition of ‘green jobs’, and how it will measure the number, type and location of these over the 2020s, for the purpose of monitoring and evaluating the impact of its policies.
  • By the end of 2021, the government department or body with overall responsibility for delivery of the government's green jobs policies should assign indicative costings to each department's actions within the overall green jobs delivery plan.
  • The government’s net zero and environmental goals must be considered at the design stage of future labour market interventions, to ensure they align with the green recovery.
  • The government should pilot a National Nature Service during 2022.
  • The government's own analysis into the Green Homes Grant voucher scheme must be completed this year to take learnings to inform future schemes’ designs, and include a plan for industry engagement, to rebuild trust.
  • By the end of this year, the government needs to set out a programme to encourage development of relevant skills across the construction trade, including small and medium-sized enterprises, to stimulate development of skilled trades to increase the capacity markedly.
  • A 'just transition' plan should be published by the end of this year and assess regional as well as sectoral impact.
  • Environmental sustainability must be included across all primary and secondary courses delivered through the National Curriculum and across A-level courses. Teachers should be supported to deliver this, with teacher training and continuous professional development.
    A module on environmental sustainability should be included in every apprenticeship and T-level course.
  • The government should set out its ambitions for improving diversity and inclusion in the green workforce and set out how it will measure diversity and inclusion in green jobs.
  • The government should set out how it will adapt its Careers Strategy to align with its net zero and environmental goals, including how it will reach different groups of the population to increase awareness of green job opportunities and how to access them.

The Environmental Audit Committee's Green Jobs report is available to download from the UK Parliament website.

The Committee's report follows a call from Engineering UK for an urgent investment of £40m in careers provision to realise the UK’s net zero ambition.

EngineeringUK is calling on the government to use the impending 'Comprehensive Spending Review' (CSR) as an opportunity to invest £40m annually in careers provision for students in schools and colleges in England to enable more young people to understand the opportunities available in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers.

This is part of a wider call put forward by the National Engineering Policy Centre to invest in a long-term STEM education strategy that will enable the UK to deliver on its ambitions around net zero and realise the government’s drive to build back better and ’level up’ across the UK in a post-Covid world.

The government’s own net zero strategy - 'Build Back Greener' - has already confirmed the need for several thousand more engineers to help the UK move towards a greener economy. For this to happen, the UK needs many more young people from all backgrounds to choose STEM and engineering careers.

Beatrice Barleon, head of policy and public affairs at EngineeringUK, said: “Ensuring that we have the number and diversity of future engineers to achieve the government’s ambitions around net zero and economic growth requires government to develop a well-funded STEM education strategy with careers provision at the heart of it.

“Our recent report ‘Securing the future’ highlighted that careers provision is still underfunded, limiting what schools can offer to young people. This needs to change.

“We want to see the government use the 2021 Comprehensive Spending Review to plug that gap and invest an additional £40m annually on supporting schools and colleges in England to improve careers provision to enable more young people to understand the opportunities available in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers.

“This small investment in the context of the wider schools’ budget, will ensure that schools have the capacity to fulfil their statutory duties in relation to careers provision in a meaningful way and help inspire the next generation of engineers. This is not only vital for the future of young people and for levelling up, but also for the economic success of this country.”

E&T recently looked at the options for workers at all levels to acquire the new skills needed for the green economy, including the IET's own Academy courses, as well as how both government and employers must build a coherent strategy and invest in training as the UK works towards the goal of reaching net zero by 2030.

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