From education to employment

Encouraging women in STEM: an answer to the green skills gap?

Yasmin White, Research Manager at Learning and Work Institute

With rising global temperatures, the demand for green skills is also expected to rise. A positive step towards achieving net zero is to ensure that young people are equipped with the green skills that employers will need to compete in a sustainable economy.

But… what are green skills?

Broadly, green skills are the skills needed to promote green economic growth that reduces UK carbon emissions. This can range from technical green skills such as those relating to construction, engineering or manufacturing, to more general skills such as project management, change management, leadership, education management and communication skills that are important in a range of jobs, including those linked to tackling climate change.

Unfortunately, as it stands, the supply of green skills isn’t meeting growing demand. New research by Learning and Work Institute, supported by WorldSkills UK, found that almost three in five employers that currently or expect to require green skills, believe that there are green skills gaps within their organisations. These gaps are bad for business. Most commonly, employers experiencing green skills gaps in their organisation are struggling to: meet net zero targets; manage rising energy costs; keep up with changes to technology; and remain competitive within their field. For the UK to succeed on the global stage alongside other greening economies, these gaps need to be plugged.

Why is there a green skills gap?

There are several reasons why this gap exists. One key reason is the lack of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers, an umbrella under which many green skills and careers lie.

It‘s no secret that STEM careers are male dominated – just 13% of the overall UK STEM workforce are women. The problems this leads to are starkly visible in the automotive industry, which is currently struggling to fill its electric vehicle technical posts. In part, this is due to the industry’s reputation as a male dominated field, something which deters women from joining. Making the most of all talent which is on offer could help to fill these gaps.  

Emma Carrigy at the Institute of the Motor Industry made a clear link between the industry’s current recruitment challenges its lack of gender diversity:

 “The sector faces its biggest skills challenge in the past two decades. With currently a record number of vacancies across the sector and the task to meet the new skills required to meet the green agenda it certainly is a challenging time. Creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce is one way to tackle this issue as well as providing the support and training to equip the workforce to deliver the Government’s climate commitments”.

Widening access to STEM subjects to include more women would help to fill the green skills gap. But our research showed that women do not have the information about how to acquire green skills and move into a green career. We found that young women are more likely than young men to say that they do not understand what green jobs are available (48 per cent of women compared to 40 per cent of men), do not know how to acquire greens skills (47 per cent of women compared to 33 per cent of men), and do not understand what green skills employers need (44 per cent of women, compared to 38 per cent of men).

What can we do about it?

Despite this knowledge gap, young women are enthusiastic about developing green skills and passionate about pursuing a green career. The same research found that women are more likely than men to say that they feel inspired to pursue a green career because they want to combat climate change (75 per cent of women compared to 67 per cent of men), and they find green skills and the prospect of a green career interesting (42 per cent of women compared to 32 per cent of men).

To help achieve the Government’s net zero target, we need to see more women pursuing jobs in STEM, with employers leveraging the enthusiasm of young women to pursue green jobs and careers. This could help reduce the green skills gap and go some way to supporting the UK to reach its net zero goals.

By Yasmin White, Research Manager at Learning and Work Institute

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