From education to employment

Creating and filling two million green jobs is going to require a major training shake-up

Richard Ng, former teacher, edtech entrepreneur and CTO of Greenworkx, explains why the UK’s mounting green skills shortfall necessitates a wholesale rethink of existing training pathways towards the green jobs of tomorrow.

With another Net Zero Week behind us, there’s an ugly truth to confront: in just four years, the UK has gone from being a genuine global leader in net zero to now being roundly criticised by the independent Climate Change Committee watchdog.

Unfortunately, it’s the young people and reskilling adults whom we serve in the education sector that will suffer the most from this – and decisive action will be needed to secure their futures.

Government delivery that Requires Improvement

Back in 2019, the UK became the first G7 nation to legislate for legally-binding net zero targets.

Now, four years and three Prime Ministers later, the Climate Change Committee has observed that the Government’s activities “[do] not show satisfactory progress”.

By Ofsted’s grading system, that would make it ‘Inadequate’ – the only level below the old ‘Satisfactory’ grade.

Ambitious targets which lack follow-up delivery is, of course, entirely familiar to those of us who work in the education sector and have seen government targets on teacher training repeatedly missed.

However, there are even larger targets in the green workforce – with seriously high stakes for if they get missed.

Challenges for the workforce, climate and economy

There are an estimated 30-60 million green workers needed by 2030 globally, with the UK Government targeting the creation of two million skilled green jobs over the same period.

These roles are a mammoth billion-pound bottleneck for our economy and net-zero – with the £1.5 billion Green Homes Grant from a few years ago derailed by a workforce shortage.

This has real, material consequences for families and communities – which we saw in last year’s energy bills crisis, with the UK’s energy-leaky homes exacerbating the problems in energy supply.

The Government – and UK taxpayers – had to cough up £40 billion to subsidise bills. For context, that is over one-third of the entire Department for Education budget.

So, it’s clear that there is both a moral imperative and economic imperative to prioritise green jobs and skills.

What does it mean in practice?

Increasing visibility on green jobs

To begin with, we need to make sure that learners can access and understand what these green jobs are and why they’re important.

When I talk to learners and teachers, I’ve found that some think a green job means being a tree-planter. Others think it means getting a fancy degree and developing some sophisticated carbon capture machine.

For example, most people have never heard of a ‘retrofit assessor’ – but we’ll need 50,000 of them in the UK by 2030.

It adds up to half a million people needed in domestic retrofit roles by 2030 – making net zero a brilliant career opportunity for people looking for futureproof skills that make a difference and get them into a high-growth sector.

A need-informed approach to training and qualifications    

But we’ll also need a large-scale change in the approach to training and qualification pathways.

For example, it could take you as long as five years to even start a solar panel installation qualification – because the existing system tries to shepherd people through a full electrical qualification as an entry requirement.

This needs to change.

Firstly, it’s not suited to industry. Employers don’t need a full team of electricians to installer solar panels – they know that a lot of the installation work can be done by skilled roofers.

Secondly, it deters people from the career. Five years of pre-training before you can start your actual training for the job is a tough pill to swallow, particular for adult learners who might be reskilling.

Finally, and most critically, it won’t get us to net-zero. There simply isn’t the time for us to faff around with making people jump through unnecessary hoops.

We need appropriate qualifications that map to the green jobs that will see the highest demand in future years. This could involve redeveloping existing qualification routes, or it could be about developing new qualification pathways such as green apprenticeships.

This could shift us towards more on-the-job training, supplemented by shorter, modular learning, so that the training doesn’t force people out of the workforce for prolonged periods.

In turn, this requires a rethink of the qualifications on offer. As another example, one employer I spoke to recently explained that, whilst they’re trying to recruit and train heat pump engineers, the existing plumbing qualification takes two years and involves training candidates to do things that aren’t relevant to the brief, like installing piping for sinks.

A change of approach is needed

It’s clear that we need serious urgency in action here – from people, organisations and government.

At Greenworkx, we’re building a platform for people to discover green jobs and get matched into training and employment, so that people can learn in a way that suits their circumstances, access economic opportunity in a futureproof sector, and play a meaningful role in the net zero transition.

But the green skills shortfall cannot be solved by any one organisation. It needs a coordinated effort between policymakers, educators and employers. Most of all, the upskilling routes need to be far more accessible – to young people, to skilled tradespeople, and to anyone who is currently in low-income or precarious employment or simply looking to change track.

The time to act is now, before the vast wave of demand arrives. Investing in these skills isn’t just a necessity, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for the UK to build a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable economy that leaves no one behind.

By Richard Ng, former teacher, edtech entrepreneur and CTO of Greenworkx

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