From education to employment

Growing a Green Workforce: The Challenges and Opportunities on the Road to Net-Zero

Glynn Williams

Upskilling and reskilling a workforce capable of making the UK’s leaky buildings more energy efficient will be crucial if the country is to achieve its environmental and economic goals. In this article, Glynn Williams outlines how we can deliver the green jobs we need.

With a surging demand in people looking to install energy-efficient measures in their properties, the stark shortage of qualified installers and technicians couldn’t be more apparent. And this challenge will only grow in severity if it isn’t tackled head on.

A main barrier holding Brits back from investing in energy efficiency is the lack of expertise available, with one in five UK respondents citing this as an obstacle. This lack of available installers contributes to a cumulative loss in potential energy savings to the tune of £3.1 billion annually.

With low-carbon sectors expected to add up to 725,000 new jobs to the UK economy, upskilling and reskilling a workforce capable of equipping the UK’s leaky buildings with energy efficient measures will help the UK meet its environmental – and economic – goals.

It will require strategic and sustained efforts from Government and the private sector. Mandating and implementing Government-funded training for installers and engineers, standardising best practice across the industry and investing in attracting and upskilling new talent are among the crucial steps that should be adopted to meet the opportunities and challenges of tomorrow.

Providing Government-funded training

Earlier this year, Chris Skidmore MP’s ‘Net Zero Review’ emphasised the importance of equipping Britain’s workforce with the necessary skills to accelerate the transition to net-zero by driving forward the delivery of the Green Jobs Taskforce. Initiatives such as the this are a step in the right direction, but Government is yet to evolve from an advisory role to one of action.

To prepare the country for net-zero, Government should allocate funding for a new, national Green Skills training programme. This programme would mandate that current and newly certified installers and energy technicians undertake skills training to learn how to install energy-efficient technology correctly and perform routine maintenance and energy efficiency audits.

While fiscal measures such as the energy price cap are helpful for households and businesses in the short term, a better long-term solution would be for Government to get to the crux of the issue. Government could therefore redirect investment from short-term fiscal measures into a more long-lasting and impactful programme that contributes to the UK economy and makes energy savings possible.

Investment in the mandatory training programme will directly benefit the UK economy. Not only will the training unlock new job opportunities for hundreds of thousands of workers, but it will also lead to massive savings in energy bills for consumers and businesses.

Backed by national funding and made available throughout the country with support from local authorities, the programme would fill a current gap in the market by setting a common standard of best practice and upskilling and reskilling a high volume of installers and technicians.

Standardising best practice across the sector

In addition to the Government-funded training programme, Government should collaborate with experts to develop and issue a set of standards for best practice in retrofitting and installation. These standards are essential for ensuring that the energy infrastructure installed across the country is fit for purpose for years to come.

Standardising best practice means not only emphasising excellence in installation, but building energy efficiency into regular monitoring and maintenance. Data suggests that most Brits associate boiler services with energy efficiency checks, but the former does not include the latter as standard.

As a result, many people are running old or inefficient systems under the false assumption that they have been properly audited. Running outdated equipment poses both economic and environmental consequences.

Similarly, experts should work together to revamp the present EPC ratings system that assesses the efficiency of a building’s heating system. With over 25 million gas boilers in the UK – many of them old and inefficient – EPC ratings should consider not only a property’s insulation, but the efficiency of a boiler and its components, such as circulator pumps.

Around the world, there are approximately 200 million circulator pumps of varying ages that are ripe for replacement. Energy technicians should be trained and empowered to help property owners spot these low-hanging fruit that are opportunities for upgrades and savings.

Mandating best practice and introducing a more robust regime for energy audits can help property owners gain a more complete understanding of the efficiency of their properties. This, in turn, will help save energy and money.

Attracting and championing new talent

In addition to upskilling and reskilling existing talent, it is essential to attract new talent by championing and fast-tracking careers in green skills.

Solutions providers, schools, universities, and trade schools all have a responsibility to recruit the next generation of skilled workers capable of assuming jobs in the low-carbon market.

Just as the tech revolution prompted immense efforts to recruit and upskill individuals to undertake roles in STEM, the green jobs revolution requires a similar campaign to make young people aware of the variety of job opportunities available to them in the low-carbon economy.

Academic institutions can play a role in informing students of the opportunities for training and apprenticeship in the green jobs sector, while companies can work closely with these institutions to provide professional work experience, mentorship, career talks, and training.

For example, the Government recently announced six green apprenticeships made available through the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE),  encouraging more people to gain the necessary skills to build a career in the green industry.

Meanwhile, the University of West England, Bristol, pioneered a promising Green Skills for Jobs and Entrepreneurship programme. The initiative encourages individuals from Black, Asian and ethnically diverse backgrounds to apply for fully paid training in green skills, setting them up for success in internships and jobs in the field.

Solutions providers such as Grundfos can also support in recruiting new talent by democratising information on the green jobs sector, be it by sharing research that underlines the need for green jobs or by providing interested individuals with access to free, virtual resources such as Grundfos Ecademy.

Through a personalised, accessible training experience, those interested in a career in green skills can grow their understanding of the field, develop their knowledge, and secure badges and certificates for completing training. Platforms and initiatives such as this could be integral to informing and encouraging a young person’s decision to pursue a career in green skills.

A career in green skills is a fruitful and important vocation and it is crucial that it is introduced to young people as such. Stakeholders can help make the sector more inclusive, accessible, and attractive by empowering more early-career individuals to explore the opportunities available in the sector.

Accelerating net-zero

Net-zero represents one of the greatest economic and environmental opportunities of our time. With the potential to transform the UK economy and set the country on track to decarbonise, we should rise to the challenges and seize the opportunities that will present themselves on the road to net-zero.

From implementing a mandatory, Government-funded training programme to championing careers in the low-carbon job market, there are viable actions that our country should urgently take to prepare our labour force to serve as skilled engineers, installers, retrofitters, and energy auditors.

There is no doubt that attracting new talent and upskilling and reskilling individuals will be a massive undertaking. It will require investment, collaboration, and coordination from multiple stakeholders. Yet, the pay-off will be invaluable –from both an economic and an environmental perspective.

Net-zero is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss. It is time to accelerate our efforts and empower our workforce to seize this opportunity.

By Glynn Williams, UK Country Director of Grundfos

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