Saturday 24 April 2021 10:00 am

Don't be distracted by bunny hugging, we need to plug the green skills gap to reach bold climate targets

Dina Potter is the Global Head of Social Impact at National Grid

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson announced a bold new target to slash the UK’s emissions by 78 per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2035. The government now needs show how it will turn this ambition into a reality, and doing so will require overcoming a serious challenge to this agenda: the green skills gap.

The PM’s ten-point plan for climate change aims to create 200,000 jobs to deliver on green goals, but the UK will need 400,000 skilled workers across the country needed to create the workforce to reach net zero by 2050, according to research by National Grid. A major challenge is the green skills deficit – it needs to be plugged quickly if we are to develop the capabilities needed for a clean energy future. Retraining existing talent and adapting traditional roles is one route, looking at how, for example, gas engineers can learn new skills to work with hydrogen. 

As government and businesses alike outline commitments to tackle climate change and achieve the green economic recovery the UK needs, there is an opportunity to address the unemployment crisis through meeting a huge need to create a future net zero workforce. 

Youth unemployment in Britain is set to more than triple to the highest levels since the early 1980s, according to the Resolution Foundation. There are 250,000 fewer 16–24-year-olds in employment than before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many young people are motivated by climate change and the current generation are more passionate than ever about tackling the issue – so government and businesses must take the opportunity to progress the climate change agenda while preventing an impending youth unemployment crisis at the same time.

Failing to address youth unemployment would have catastrophic implications for the future UK workforce and the economic resilience needed to emerge from the pandemic. If we’re to truly “build back better” and have a green economic recovery, we must harness young talent to deliver these ambitions.

We will need a huge variety of diverse skills and expertise – from scientists and engineers, digital and data specialists, welding tradespeople, to change management professionals. These are the best and brightest minds with technological expertise and a passion for climate change who will develop, build and operate the infrastructure needed. 

We also need to ensure we are engaging young people from all social backgrounds and parts of the country. People trying to enter the workforce from the most disadvantaged areas are those most at risk of seeing their life chances dented diminished by Covid. Our Grid for Good programme, launched in November 2020, aims to rally the energy industry together to help those people access employment and training opportunities in the sector. Working together, collectively, energy companies could tap into new skillsets and ways of thinking, shape the green skills they will need, and do their part to tackle the impending the unemployment crisis facing young people in a way that creates long-term, meaningful career prospects. 

The government’s Green Jobs Taskforce is an important step to creating two million skilled jobs. Alongside the National Skills Fund, this begins to address the twin problems of climate change and youth unemployment. But there must be a concerted effort from business and ministers government to create the workforce needed and stop young people losing out as the country recovers from the coronavirus crisis. As momentum continues to ramp up for action on climate change, one thing remains clear; green jobs are the jobs that simply can’t wait.

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