From education to employment

The UK’s road to net zero is impossible without a major reskilling programme

Simon Phelan, CEO and Founder of Hometree

The UK Government can achieve #NetZero emissions without compromising economic prosperity, as advances of the last decades have put climate neutrality within reach. However, laying the foundation with appropriate practices, regulations and training to reach net zero in the next decade will be critical to achieving this goal.

The ease of the transition to a green economy is in many ways dependent on the workforce gaining new environmentally focused skills. According to an estimate by the International Energy Agency in June this year, 117,000 jobs in the UK will have to be filled before the end of this decade to merely service the growing green energy infrastructure. Across the UK economy, over 6 million jobs could be affected by the national push for carbon neutrality, requiring workers to adapt. 

The UK’s biggest skills shortages are in science, technology, engineering, and maths – and there simply aren’t enough STEM graduates available to businesses. People with these research and development skills are badly needed in sectors such as energy generation and car manufacturing. But other skills and industries are coming to the fore too, as more sectors seek to decarbonise.

Take the home services sector, for instance, where buildings are responsible for as much as 40% of global energy used, and at least one third of global greenhouse emissions. The Government is taking action against this and, in October this year, the Johnson-premiership set out its heat and buildings strategy which aims to significantly cut carbon emissions from the UK’s 30 million homes and workplaces in a simple, low-cost way. Included within this strategy was a £5,000 grant to allow people to install heat pumps and other low-carbon boiler replacements.

While the Government’s ambition should be commended, the implementation of the heat pump strategy is a perfect example of the reskilling challenges the UK faces as it shifts towards net-zero. It’s been revealed that up to 40,000 new engineers will be required to meet the demand for heat pumps, prompting questions about the long-term viability of the grant and strategy.

Many of the UK’s smaller, often independent, home repairs firms also don’t have the capital to quickly retrain their engineers on how to install heat pumps and following decades of installing traditional boilers and heating systems, the leap to heat pumps is a big one skills-wise.

The difficulty the UK faces in rolling out heat pumps across homes is reflective of issues many sectors across the economy will face as the country shifts to net-zero. Reskilling must be at the heart of any net-zero ambition because, unfortunately, promises and pledges do not result in change by themselves. If the UK lacks the skills to make our net-zero ambitions a reality, then they will never materialise.

The Government must recognise this and look to invest in green skills to help futureproof the UK economy. Businesses can also play their part, introducing training schemes to ensure their employees have the skills needed to achieve net-zero, which will help them avoid any drop in revenue during the transition phase. Long term, nurturing these skills within the UK will also reduce the costs of manufacturing of greener technologies.

Successful decarbonisation requires deploying and scaling net-zero technologies. However, without investment in reskilling, the Government will find it is pursuing its net-zero agenda with one arm tied behind its back. The energy transition must be accompanied by a shift to maximise green jobs and the time to start actively building these capabilities is now.

Simon Phelan, CEO and Founder of Hometree

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