Part of the task ahead is the government’s plan to create thousands of ‘green jobs’ - jobs that focus on reducing carbon emissions, restoring nature or making similar environmental improvements.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out a Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution to help reach the UK’s climate commitments while creating highly skilled jobs. The low carbon sector and supply chain already provides over 460,000 jobs in the UK, but the government’s ambition is to grow this to two million green jobs by 2030. Sounds great – but how realistic is this target and are we prepared to meet the challenge?
“In the ten years I have been researching sustainable business, public awareness about sustainability and the role that business plays in solving our climate emergency has shifted dramatically,” says Dr Fred Paterson, Associate Professor of Sustainable Business and Clean Growth at the University of Derby and Low Carbon Business Network Lead. “And as we begin our ‘green recovery’ from the pandemic, this shift will increasingly impact on our jobs, communities and family life.
“The UK government’s taskforce was launched to support the drive to create more green jobs by 2030. In its report to Government, Industry and the Skills Sector (2021), the Green Jobs Taskforce says that “every job of the future will be directly or indirectly shaped by the transition to net zero”, but in its Sixth Carbon Budget, the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) warned that it is likely to take 10 years or more to secure the appropriate skills, capacity and supply chains in key sectors like building and transport.
“With rising demand for green skills as the UK ‘builds back greener’ following the coronavirus crisis, long-term skills planning that improves education and skills provision will be key to supporting the transition to a zero-carbon economy. This plan will also need to focus on supporting the workforce in high carbon industries to make the shift to good quality green jobs.”
‘Green Jobs’ may become the latest buzzword, but what does the term really mean. Dr Paterson believes it masks different definitions and categorisations whereby one analysis is counting apples, and the other is counting pears. In order to model and predict jobs growth and skills needs in different sectors over the coming decades, much greater clarity about measures and approaches to analysis is needed, as well as some agreed baselines.
“The distinction between jobs and skills is important, because the labour market dynamics of ‘greening’ the economy are, and will remain, complex for the foreseeable future. The European Union’s vocational education agency, Cedefop, defines green skills as “the knowledge, abilities, values and attitudes needed to live in, develop and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society” and argues that green skills are needed by all sectors and at all levels in the workforce.
“Indeed, our own study of key skills and training needs of the D2N2 Low Carbon & Environmental Goods & Services (LCEGS) Sector found that suppliers of pro-environmental, low carbon and sustainable goods and services exist in every key sector; and concluded that pro-environmental suppliers and innovators should be identified in each priority sector and the current and future skills needs relevant to each sector established. This is mirrored in the recommendation by the Green Jobs Taskforce that local transition bodies should be set up to ensure effective place-based strategies for workforce transition.
“The successful transition to a low carbon economy will only be possible, therefore, if we ensure that workers are able to adapt and transfer from areas of decreasing employment to other industries, and that human capital exists and is maximised to develop new industries.”
Ian Bates is Policy and Representation Manager at the East Midlands Chamber. He explains what the green jobs landscape currently looks like across the region.
“We've seen a lot more businesses engaging with the green agenda and realising the opportunities it presents, for example developing new innovative products and creating new streams of income, but there is more work to be done.
“The current situation can be split into three areas; those businesses which are totally on board, those which we call ‘cautious adopters’ and those who don't engage at all with the green agenda. The risk is that those who don’t engage are potentially going to get left behind, particularly if we see new legislation brought in to try and engage the business community with the government and local authority targets for net zero.
“But the narrative we have with the business community is that there are many opportunities to be had. Procurement is a great lever for example. If you look at most public and private sector contracts now, there's a lot more emphasis on the supply chain’s green credentials.
“Businesses are reporting on their carbon footprints and the net zero status of their environmental sustainability goals, and some are including their supply chain in this.”
An ongoing research in collaboration between the University and the East Midlands Chamber shows that the number of firms in the East Midlands that derive turnover from low carbon and pro- environmental goods and services has more than doubled between 2015 and 2021, increasing from 16% in 2015 to 37% in 2021. So how are SMEs responding to the green jobs and skills challenge compared to larger companies?
“The difference tends to be down to resourcing. We are seeing more larger organisations investing in green skills, for example a dedicated employee who oversees the sustainability of the business and reports on this.
“There is a sense that this is such a huge agenda, and that can lead to smaller businesses switching off because they feel that they can't make a difference. But they can - perfection shouldn't hold back progress. Business don't have to be perfect; they just need to start on the journey and make those first steps.
“The good thing is, I think more SMEs are understanding that now. They see the value of the ‘green’ pound and offering these types of goods and services.”
Even with these early adopters and engaged businesses on board, is the region ready for the challenge that lies ahead and how well equipped are we to meet local and national green job targets?
“Currently, I don’t think we're in a strong position to because the demands are moving quicker than we can fulfil the skills required. Any fast-moving change in the way we do things is always going to struggle with this.
“Our inbox is full of businesses saying they can't get people with the right skills,” adds Ian.
“There has always been an issue around creating skills provision before you have the capacity to make that provision financially viable, but there is some great work being done through government Local Skills Improvement Plan pilots. They have reached out to organisations like the Chamber to engage with the business community and link back to the education community, particularly FE (further education), to shape provision moving forward.
“By early next year, we will have a view of whether that has an impact and part of that discussion will be around the green agenda and ensuring we have the skills to fulfil the needs of the demands of a greener economy.
“Another area where we are seeing more engagement, perhaps influenced by the pandemic, is between businesses and universities across the region. We've seen businesses, who wouldn’t have traditionally engaged with universities, approaching them for support on innovation, particularly around environmental goods and services."
The Composite Materials Research Group at the University of Derby, led by Dr Tahir Sharif and Dr Rizwan Choudhry, is actively supporting such SMEs directly and indirectly. Dr Choudry explains what impact the collaboration between SME's and businesses is really having on green skills.
"Many engineering SMEs are now looking for sustainable, high performance, low carbon alternatives to traditional high performance, albeit high carbon, materials.
"For some local SMEs, the primary concern is reducing their own carbon footprint, which is good, but on the other hand there are growing numbers of SMEs which are actively seeking ways to develop solutions that can help reduce carbon footprint across the supply chain for high carbon sectors, such as transport and infrastructure.
"Our Knowledge Transfer Partnership’s with local SME’s have resulted in the development of a new low-carbon bio-based resin system. Similarly, in another intervention, we supported the development of a solution for reducing embodied carbon from pre-cast concrete structures.
"Our students are the engine for this research and while carrying out these projects they become equipped with skills that will take them to the front of the queue in an evolving job market. We are now at a stage where this research is being fed back into our graduate and undergraduate teaching programmes, as well making our future graduates ready for the facing this biggest challenge of 21st century."
Professor Chris Bussell, Pro Vice-Chancellor Dean of the University’s College of Science and Engineering, is also Chair of Derby’s Climate Change Commission which is working across Derby to reduce the city’s carbon emissions and move towards a more sustainable, low carbon economy. He believes the University’s environmental sustainability ambitions are high, but says it is committed to its civic leadership role in this arena.
“At Derby, we have a strong focus and awareness of our impact on the local, national and global environment, and are particularly conscious of our responsibilities to support the pathway to net zero locally and nationally.
“We have committed to collaborative work across the city to establish a UNESCO Learning City that will have education for environmental sustainability at its heart. In support of this, we have established an Education for Sustainable Development group, which is exploring the embedding of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs) and principles of responsible management education (PRME) into the curriculum. This will assure that graduates of the future have the awareness of their environmental responsibilities and those of the sector in which they will work in the future.
“Externally we continue to engage with business and organisations across the city and county. Through Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and Knowledge Exchange, businesses are accessing the skills, funding and expertise they need to develop.
“The University’s DE-Carbonise Project supports businesses and companies to reduce their carbon loading through enhancements to practices, and our partnership with Derbyshire County Council on the Green Entrepreneurs Programme demonstrates our strength in supporting green economy innovation across the region.
“This year, we also launched our MSc in Sustainable and Ethical Business Management for progressive business-people who want to reposition their organisation for a better future and learn how to build more ethical and sustainable business practices that align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”
There is considerable narrative surrounding net zero targets on a local, regional and national level. Green jobs are clearly part of the agenda and the journey to meet them all, but action is what is needed to cross the finish line and for it to be regarded as a success.
“It seems clear that for the foreseeable future, green sector support will continue to prioritise renewable energy, green buildings and sustainable transport,” says Dr Paterson.
“More emphasis will need to be placed on upskilling the sustainable food, drink and farming sectors, as well as re-framing the role that finance, procurement and supply chain professionals have in a zero-carbon future.
“We have come a long way though. In the early days of my research, it wasn’t clear which businesses were part of the ‘low carbon economy’ in our region and what their needs were. Finally, we should all be mindful of the civic foundations of prosperity and the role we can play as environmental stewards – as family and community members, as well as through our business and professional.”
Written by Gemma Bradley