From education to employment

A More Ambitious Net Zero ‘Economic, Jobs and Skills’ Plan

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute

Achieving Net Zero UK Style 

Achieving a net zero economy by 2050 will require enormous changes in our economy and in how we live our lives. It will create new jobs, displace existing jobs, change the skills required in many roles, and require all of us to change our behaviours.

How do we deliver such a huge transformation? In the US, President Biden has proposed a $2 trillion climate plan, with the twin aims of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating high quality green jobs. This is part of a stimulus to boost recovery from coronavirus, as well as tackling climate change.

The UK and US governments have the phrase ‘build back better’ in common, but beyond that there’s two big differences in approach.


We shouldn’t underplay the transformation that has already taken place in the UK economy, but we’ll need to accelerate progress to hit net zero by 2050 while the green measures introduced as part of economic stimulus are pretty small next to the US. The economy has just taken a huge hit from the pandemic, and employment has taken 3-7 years to recover after previous recessions. And so, what better time to accelerate that green transition than now?


President Biden is clear that he wants this investment to create high quality, well paid jobs and to focus on growing these in areas that have suffered economically, like the Rust Belt (in some senses the US equivalent to the UK Government’s aim of ‘levelling up’). We’ll see how he does this in practice, but the ambition is clear and explicit.

In the UK, disjoints in policy and delivery abound. BEIS is responsible for our approach to climate change, the Department for Education is responsible for skills in England with devolved administrations responsible elsewhere in the UK, and DWP is responsible for employment policy. Meanwhile, local government also has a range of responsibilities for economic growth, regeneration, skills and employment.

We need practical measures to join all of this up. Yet the only mention of the green economy in the Skills for Jobs White Paper for England is to say we don’t currently have enough higher technical skills to deliver it, while ‘levelling up’ and ‘unemployment’ each gets just a solitary mention. I know it’s easier to call for more joint working than it can be to do in practice, but we should have a higher ambition and clear actions.

What would a more ambitious approach look like?

First, accelerate green investment as far as possible. That means green energy, but also so much more, including the role of adult education in promoting awareness of climate change and the measures people can take themselves. Our work on Life Skills in Europe included a strand on environmental capabilities, showing how this can be delivered in practice.

Second, make this part of economic recovery plans, focused on ‘levelling up’ the country and creating high quality jobs accessible for those out of work today. That means thinking about what we invest in, where we invest, and how we ensure local people have the skills for the new jobs created.

Third, understand the practical skills and employment needs of the move to net zero. In a previous role, I worked with employers to help identify the skills and jobs the 2012 Olympics and Crossrail would need and when. Requirements to take on local people and apprentices were built into contracts, and skills and employment programmes aligned to these needs.

There are similar examples across the country. We need to turbocharge this type of practical approach, and that needs to be driven locally.

Fourth, better help to enable people and employers adapt and update skills in existing jobs. That needs a broad approach to workforce development (including, but not limited to, apprenticeships). Perhaps Help to Grow, which will support with leadership and management, can help businesses develop the skills they need to make the most of new green opportunities.

Fifth, the big and unpredictable changes ahead mean we need to provide people with high quality and up-to-date information, advice and guidance.

Contribution to Levelling Up

Most people are in favour of green skills and jobs. The challenge comes in specificity. Government investment can create immediate opportunities, and we should be ambitious in making sure that contributes to levelling up and benefiting local people.

Recommendation 1

We need to be more ambitious in driving the transition to net zero and make this a central part of both economic recovery and levelling up, with a focus on high quality jobs and local opportunities.

Recommendation 2

We must understand the employment and skills needs generated from green investment and work in partnership locally to link employers, people and learning and skills providers.

Recommendation 3

We must help people and businesses understand the challenge presented by Net Zero and enable them to adapt by investing in adult education and workforce development, learning from existing green skills programmes.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute

Racing to Net Zero – the role of post-16 education and skills

The UK needs comprehensive jobs and skills plan to successfully support and drive the transition to Net Zero.  

This is the conclusion of Campaign for Learning on publishing a new collection of expert views – Racing to Net Zero – the role of post-16 education and skills,

This pamphlet brings together experts on Net Zero and post-16 education, skills and employment policy. The sixteen contributors offer real insights about how post-16 education and skills policy can support the race to Net Zero here in the UK.

Contributors to Racing to Net Zero:

Shaun Spiers, Green Alliance Greening the Economy, Greening the Environment
Stephen Evans, Learning and Work Institute A more ambitious Net Zero ‘Economic, Jobs and Skills’ Plan
Paul Nowak, TUC Workers, Skills and the Net Zero Economy
Duncan Brown, Emsi The Demand for Green Jobs and Green Skills
Ewart Keep, University of Oxford Labour Market Intelligence for Green Jobs and Green Skills
Jane Hickie, AELP Filling Green Jobs with Level 2+ Apprenticeships
Calum Carson, ERSA Filling Green Jobs through Employment Support Schemes
David Hughes, Association of Colleges FE Colleges, Upskilling, Reskilling and Net Zero
Susan Pember, HOLEX Adult and Community Education and Net Zero
Nick Hillman, HEPI Universities and Net Zero
Bill Watkin, Six Form Colleges Association 16-18 Education and Net Zero
John Widdowson, Former FE Principal 16-18 Level 3 T Levels and Net Zero
Rebecca Conway, Federation of Awarding Bodies Net Zero and the ‘Level 3 and Below’ Curriculum
Charlotte Bonner, Education and Training Foundation Education for Sustainable Development and the FE Workforce
Adrian Anderson, UVAC Green Jobs, Apprenticeships and Higher Technical Education
Victoria Hands and Stephen Peake, The Open University Education for Sustainable Development in Higher Education

Related Articles