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Skills for a net zero economy – three key insights from employers and young people

With the UK recently recording its hottest temperatures on record, the climate emergency and its immediate implications are at the forefront of people’s minds. However, while the Government has made a concerted effort to push the UK towards its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, more needs to be done to equip people with the green skills that employers require. While these skills are vital for the many new jobs that are being created from the need to green the economy, they are also key in supporting existing roles and sectors to decarbonise.

Recognising the importance of this mission, Learning and Work Institute conducted research on behalf of World Skills UK (WSUK) to understand how the UK’s skills systems can help young people acquire the skills needed to support the UK’s transition to net zero. From a review of the evidence, online surveys with employers and young people and case studies, here are three key findings:

1. Young people are committed to pursuing a green career, but they have low levels of awareness and understanding of green skills

Four in five (80%) young people surveyed stated that it was either very or quite important that they work for an organisation that is committed to tackling climate change. Although this commitment to sustainability is extremely positive, it is concerning that more than three in five (63%) young people told us that they had never heard of green skills and didn’t know what they were.
WSUK`Source: YouthSight young people survey 2022. Base: All respondents (1,162)
More must be done to promote green skills within the education system to demonstrate their value as well as what they mean, and the types of jobs they can lead to. More specifically, targeted support and information for women within the education system could help to close the gender gap that exists between young people’s understanding of green skills.

2. Young people are being prevented from pursuing green careers mainly due to a lack of understanding around the availability of green jobs, the green skills that employers require and how to acquire them.

Despite the Department for Education publishing its strategy for sustainability and climate change, which confirmed the establishment of a Green Jobs Delivery Group, our findings demonstrate that more needs to be done to bridge the gap with young people. The most common barriers preventing young people from pursuing a green career were cited as a low understanding of what green jobs are available (44%), a low understanding of the green skills that employers require (41%) and a low understanding of how to acquire green skills (40%). This points to the importance of awareness and communications campaigns that can support education providers to highlight the pathways that are available.

3. Most employers currently require green skills or expect to in the future, and feel there are green skills gaps within their organisation

While the majority of employers (59%) currently require green skills or expect to in the future, only 40 per cent of employers surveyed agree that the education system is equipping young people with the necessary green skills. This creates a disparity between the supply and demand of skills and could lead to further recruitment challenges. Additionally, almost three in five employers (59%) that currently or expect to require green skills feel there are green skills gaps within their organisation. These gaps are negatively impacting their ability to meet net zero targets (29%) and manage rising energy costs (26%). If the UK is to achieve its net zero target and compete within the global green economy, equipping young people with the green skills that employers require is paramount.
WSUK2 Source: YouGov employer survey, 2022. Base: Employers who currently require green skills or expect to in the future and notice a green skills gap in their organisation (347)
While these green skills gaps are likely to hinder progress towards the UK’s net zero targets, they are also obstructing the growth and development of some organisations more generally. As more employers begin to demand green skills and the greening of the economy accelerates, those unable to source employees with the right skills will lag further behind. This spells trouble not only for the UK’s green target, but also UK business and the economy more widely. These findings show that green skills must be elevated to occupy a central role within the UK’s education system. More must be done to increase young people’s awareness of green skills and the pathways that are available to them, whilst also expanding the existing pool of options. Efforts such as these could be crucial in enabling the UK to grow its supply of essential green skills and ultimately meet its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Click here to read the report.

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