Floatgen wind turbine  - inline

UK decarbonisation will lead to job changes rather than losses, report finds

Image credit: Ideol | V.Joncheray

The UK’s decarbonisation drive will lead to major changes in the economy but jobs in carbon-intensive industries are expected to change rather than be lost, the Resolution Foundation has said.

Some 1.3 million people are employed in carbon-intensive ‘brown’ jobs that will need to adapt to cleaner technologies and processes.

In its report, the Resolution Foundation said that the share of ‘green jobs’ has grown by just 1.3 percentage points over the past decade, but it anticipates that this change will accelerate over the course of this decade as firms replace emissions-intense processes with new, clean technologies and practices.

The sheer pace of change coming has led some to claim that the decarbonisation drive of the 2020s and 2030s will lead to a repeat of the job destruction of deindustrialisation that saw manufacturing shrink as a share of employment by 5 percentage points a decade in the 1970s and 1980s.

But the research shows that the labour market will see changes from decarbonisation rather than a shrinkage in the number of roles. For example, affected employees such as those working as HGV drivers or in energy plants will be driving different kinds of vehicles and producing electricity in different ways in the decades ahead.

The other key group affected are the 4.3 million workers in ‘green jobs’. Some of these are likely to grow – including wind turbine engineers and environmental and conservation professionals – while others will see their jobs change – including technicians and managers of various types.

But the report warns that efforts must be taken to ensure that low and mid-skilled workers can benefit from the net zero transition, with most areas of job growth being higher skilled. It also found that it was a rare occurrence for workers to switch from ‘brown’ to ‘green’ jobs largely due to the significant differences between the tasks required of them.

However, there are strong incentives to move to ‘green job’ sectors as they already carry an average wage premium of 8 per cent over non-green jobs. With two-in-five ‘green’ and ‘brown’ jobs found in overlapping sectors – construction, manufacturing, agriculture and energy – calls for brown-to-green job moves are common.

‘Green job’ workers are over three times more likely to be in higher-qualified, professional jobs compared to ‘brown jobs’ (83 per cent versus 26 per cent), with the majority of ‘brown’ workers in lower-qualified, manual jobs (54 per cent).

These differences help explain why more than a quarter of the highest-paid workers are in ‘green jobs’ (27 per cent) while ‘brown’ workers are concentrated in the middle of the income distribution.

Furthermore, the limited growth in ‘green jobs’ so far has predominantly been driven by middle-aged workers moving from non-green jobs into similarly skilled ‘green jobs’, rather than employing a wide variety of workers.

Kathleen Henehan, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The UK’s net zero transition has begun to affect the labour market, but more rapid change is expected this decade given enhanced commitments in policy and business strategies.

“This has led some to warn that decarbonisation could be as damaging as deindustrialisation in terms of job destruction. Some transitions into new jobs will be required, but the reality is most workers will feel the net zero transition through changes to the jobs they already do, rather than redundancies and completely new types of work.”

Anna Valero, senior policy fellow at the Centre for Economic Performance, said: “Securing a ‘green job’ is likely to lead to higher wages, but entry into those jobs is dominated by those with higher skills. Policy makers should prioritise supporting workers to adapt to new technologies and tasks, either in their current jobs, or by moving to ‘green’ jobs through an expansion of skills and training. That will hold the key to ensuring that decarbonisation can lead to better jobs and pay for as many people as possible.”

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles