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Green skills for education and employment

This briefing outlines what green skills are, why they are important for net zero, challenges and opportunities for skills development and related policy issues.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.58248/PN711 

Green skills can be defined as “the knowledge, abilities, values and attitudes needed to live in, develop and support a society which reduces the impact of human activity on the environment”. Several definitions exist, with some focused on technical skills for jobs that play a major role in reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (for example, heat pump installation). Other definitions are broader, and include enabling skills and attitudes, such as public engagement and systems thinking. The lack of a consistent definition can make it challenging to analyse the supply and demand for different skills in the UK workforce. 

Evidence suggests that developing green skills will be achieved mainly by upskilling the current workforce, but all components of the education system will play a role in increasing skills and raising awareness of green career paths. Some stakeholders suggest that the vocational education pathway will be particularly important. There is low public awareness of green skills and green career paths, and commentators propose that this could be improved through public engagement and improved careers advice in schools and further education colleges. 

Sectors such as power generation, construction, waste and resources are likely to see growth and a significant update in skills as part of the net zero transition. These sectors also tend to have an ageing workforce with a substantial proportion approaching retirement. Stakeholders propose that improving diversity in key sectors may help to mitigate green skills shortages. 

Other challenges include regional variation in demand for, and access to, green skills development, and shifting policy priorities leading to a lack of investment in training by employers. Training has also seen an overall reduction in investment by both the UK Government and employers. Stakeholders have advocated that green skills development could align with levelling up ambitions. There is strong consensus that policy certainty from government would support private sector investment in green technologies, demand for green skills, and provision of green skills training. 

Key points

  • Green skills can be defined as “the knowledge, abilities, values and attitudes needed to live in, develop and support a society which reduces the impact of human activity on the environment”.
  • Green skills are often associated with sectors that will play a major role in reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, such as power, home heating, waste and resources.
  • Upskilling workers will be necessary to address green skills shortages, as well as increasing the workforce in key sectors.
  • Stakeholders suggest that the quality and uptake of vocational education and training (such as apprenticeships) are important factors for developing green skills in the workforce.
  • There is regional variation in demand for, and access to, green skills. Stakeholders have identified opportunities to align skills policy with the levelling up agenda to reduce regional disparities.
  • Policy certainty is seen as a key lever to promote upskilling. Commentators suggest that frequent changes to government policies and targets can inhibit investment in skills. The UK Government’s Green Jobs Delivery Group plans to publish a Net Zero and Nature Workforce Action Plan in the first half of 2024.
  • There is low public awareness of green skills and the available training options, which has been attributed to inconsistent definitions for green skills.

Contributors

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including: 

Members of the POST Board*  

Department for Education (DfE)  

Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ)  

Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra)*  

Department for Work & Pensions (DWP)  

Scottish Government*  

Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE)  

Richard Abrams, ABL  

Martin Baxter, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA)*  

Phil Beach, Energy & Utility Skills  

Dustin Benton, Green Alliance  

Professor Ödül Bozkurt, University of Sussex  

Dr Richard Byrne, Harper Adams University  

Professor Linda Clarke, University of Westminster  

Nathan Cookson, Chartered Institution of Wastes Management  

Steve Coulter, Green Alliance  

Michael Cross, The Green Edge*  

Steve Fowkes, Forestry Commission*  

Teresa Frith, Association of Colleges  

Dr Inge Hill, The Open University*  

Paul Kett, PwC  

Joseph Lewis, The Institution of Environmental Sciences*  

Anna Markova, Trades Union Congress  

Victoria Matthews, Vaillant  

Joe McFadden, GetZero*  

Mika Minio-Paluello, Trades Union Congress  

Karen Mitchell, Cumbria Action for Sustainability  

Adam Read, Suez*  

Professor David Reay, University of Edinburgh*  

Denis Richard, Energy Systems Catapult*  

Eduardo Rodriguez Montemayor, PwC   

Andrew Sissons, NESTA*  

Dr Dean Stroud, University of Cardiff*  

John Szymik, Octopus Energy Services  

Mark Wilkins, Vaillant  

* denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

Related Links

Documents to download

Channel website: https://www.parliament.uk/post

Original article link: https://post.parliament.uk/research-briefings/post-pn-0711/

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