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Comment: UK lacks skills to make low carbon transition

Aldersgate Group

The UK does not have the necessary skills to make the transition to a low carbon economy at the pace required to meet mandatory targets - or the training arrangements in place to fill the gap, according to a report from Aldersgate Group.

The report, Mind the Gap – Skills for the Transition to a Low Carbon Economy, finds that, despite the UK’s commitment to a rapid transition to a low-carbon, resource efficient economy, the UK’s skills strategy is inadequate to meet these needs.

John Edmonds, Former President of the TUC and Aldersgate Group Project Chair for the report says: “The skills gap in the UK economy is well documented, with one in three firms already hampered by a shortage of skilled staff, from those needed to install new technology to scientists and engineers.

“Investment in low-carbon skills is vital if the UK is to build a more resilient and sustainable economy. In the next two years a commitment to green training will accelerate the growth of new jobs and help us out of recession. It is encouraging to hear both main parties now talk of their commitment to a ‘green revolution’. Our report will help them identify the key issues and barriers that such a commitment must address,” he adds.

The skills shortage comes at a time when demand for engineers for major infrastructure projects is increasing as the UK attempts to address expansion in offshore and onshore wind, carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, flood defences, high speed rail and upgrading the water infrastructure.

Two of the UK government’s most recent high profile energy announcements, over nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS), have been made at the same time that roughly 30% of British Energy’s workforce is due for retirement within 10 years creating significant loss of expertise.

In the short term the nuclear industry capacity gap will be filled by importing skills from countries such as France, while jobs in CCS are more likely to go to competitors in China and the US.

The report highlights that the most significant driver for low carbon skills is a robust industrial policy that encourages investment in low carbon technology and resource efficiency.

A major recommendation of the report is that all major environmental policies – such as increased subsidies for offshore wind or the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme – should be accompanied with a corresponding skills strategy to drive investment in new capacity and supporting infrastructure in order to succeed.

This principle of complementary policies should be driven by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills with a high degree of transparency, accountability and engagement with business, trade unions, professional bodies and the general public.

In addition the report states that the Government should:

Provide sufficient investment for training: to develop core technical skills in targeted areas and also to transform existing skills. The aim should be to enhance existing skills wherever possible rather than create new skills.

Make training institutions fit for purpose: The skills delivery system is ill equipped to identify and respond to the skill needs of the low carbon transition. This needs to be tuned to future jobs skills needs and the government must provide more strategic leadership and responsibility for delivery across all sectors.

Drive demand for environmental skills: the UK government should mobilise business engagement by providing initial funding programmes that can help alter long-term business practices and support in-house training programmes. More effective sustainable public procurement skills and policies must also be developed.

Reform its communication strategy: the current government classification for a ‘green job’ is ill defined and will become increasingly irrelevant as the low-carbon transformation develops. The government should also engage with the UK workforce with more practical information.

Peter Young, Chairman of the Aldersgate Group, says: “This report shows that our training institutions must be able to look beyond our current industrial and business structures and plan for the skill requirements of the future. Most of our recommendations are aimed at government because business members said they needed certainty from government if they are to invest. They want to see more evidence of whole government action joining up capacity building, skills and regulatory policies to make the commitments and pace of change to a low carbon economy credible to business.

“If the UK is going to compete with the likes of Germany in global low carbon markets, a key component must be to build skills across the economy and proactively transfer skills from high carbon sectors where jobs will be lost. At stake are the jobs, competitiveness and prosperity of the future.”

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