The UK is facing a green skills crisis: what can we do?

22 June 2023 by Marie Cloherty
blog author

​​Commentary from Marie Cloherty for People Management, published on 16.06.23, original source: The UK is facing a green skills crisis – what can we do?, Author: Yoana Cholteeva.

Despite increased concern about the need to tackle climate change, the UK workforce does not currently possess the skills needed to drive the green economy transformation, research has found.

While hiring has slowed globally, green job postings – requiring skills such as climate action planning, corporate sustainability and sustainable procurement – have grown by 15.2 per cent on LinkedIn, with green jobs now making up a third (33 per cent) of job postings in the UK, according to the latest Global Green Skills Report by LinkedIn.

The research showed that currently, more companies are looking for people who can help them achieve their climate goals, making demand for green talent outstrip supply.

In addition, the UK is facing a harder time compared to its western counterparts with just one in eight workers in the UK currently having green skills, compared to one in seven workers in France and one in six in Germany.

Confirming the lack of focus and investment in green skills, Marie Cloherty, executive director of Acre, says that despite many courses now existing in the subject matter and more young people choosing academic and technical qualifications linked to sustainability, “these won’t solve the immediate issue facing modern businesses”. Instead, “there needs to be significant investment in upskilling the middle management layer – the next generation hitting the board room”, she adds.

What is causing the green skills gap?
Confirming the report’s findings, JC Townend, chief executive of career transition and mobility at LHH in the UK and Ireland, says that as the green transition is picking up speed, “organizations across sectors are looking to make their practices more sustainable in response to growing consumer and policy interest”, which drives the growing demand for green skills.

Echoing this, Sue Duke, VP, head of global public policy and economic graph at LinkedIn, warns that filling these skills gaps will be “no mean feat” as “tackling climate change requires a transformation of the global labor market, both in terms of the jobs people do and the skills that professionals need”.

For this reason, she cautions that it is not enough to simply create more green roles and wait for people to fill them, “without the right skills, these new jobs can be hard for people to break into,” Duke says, while adding that “we need to make it as easy as possible for people to move into green jobs, and this will require combined action from policymakers, businesses and educational organizations”.

Emphasising the urgency to help develop green skills, Mark Edwards, chief executive of SERT, says that “this is not the only industry with severe skill shortages, but sectors with acute shortages such as shipbuilding, automotive or aerospace cause significant delays to projects, months worth of delivery delays and millions over budget”. But “what is the cost of delay to our planet if green skills continue to decline as the report suggests?,” he wonders.

How can we help tackle the green skills crisis?
Despite being passionate about helping to tackle climate change and being interested in taking such jobs, recent research by Learning and Work Institute for WorldSkills UK found that young people do not understand enough about how they can do that.

For instance, while 79 per cent of young people said it was important to work for an organization committed to tackling climate change, 87 per cent also admitted they did not know what green skills were and were unsure how to turn this passion into a career.

Proposing one way to do that, Townend says that when hiring new workers, businesses can grow the green workforce by embracing a holistic approach.

“As green skills are an emerging area of study, closing the door to candidates without the desired formal education may lead to a limited talent pool that discount otherwise qualified candidates,” she says, while advising that businesses might benefit from “remaining open to candidates who can show their capabilities in nontraditional ways and place a higher value on soft skills like adaptability and an eagerness to learn”.

Edwards also says that L&D professionals and HR can contribute to bridging skills gaps by identifying the gaps, designing effective training programs, promoting continuous learning, supporting career awareness and development and facilitating knowledge transfer.

“By taking a proactive approach and engaging employees at all levels, organizations can better prepare their workforce for the challenges and opportunities of the future.” Pointing out that nearly half of the workforce is set to retire in the next 10 years, he adds that “more engagement with new entrants 16+ and career awareness for those under 16 can go a long way”.

Similarly, Cloherty proposes that businesses focus on building capacity and resilience into their existing workforces. “And this doesn’t necessarily mean technical upskilling, but upskilling around enabling change, stakeholder engagement, influencing upwards and effective communication and teamwork.”

She also adds that all sectors will need such individuals to come through within their workforces as later, “those people will educate the next set of technically competent change-makers in sustainability who graduate and come into the workforce – but who might lack the commercial experience to navigate organizations and affect change with the skills they have”.

Read how different organizations are embedding environmental sustainability initiatives in their organizations in this CIPD report.


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