BIS: Building skills for a green economy

The Green Economy Team at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) sets out a clear business case for kitting out a new generation of skilled workers in sustainable resource management

Working with DECC and Defra, BIS published Enabling the transition to a green economy in August 2011, which set out measures put in place through the demand-led system to support green skills in the context of the national skills strategy.

DECC, Defra and BIS subsequently published, in October of 2011, Skills for a green economy – a report on the Evidence. This supplementary report covers the skills proposals announced in Enabling the transition and sets out the evidence underpinning them.

Green skills is a broad term and can include any skills which contribute towards the development of a sustainable, environmentally sensitive, economy. Green skills can be taught from scratch, but it is also important that we learn to ‘green’ existing skills within relevant industries, such as sustainable resource management.

Enabling the transition to a green economy makes the point that the system is increasingly demand-led, with businesses articulating their skills needs either individually, in loose partnerships, or through more organised vehicles such as Sector Skills Councils and National Skills Academies.

Colleges and providers are responding to this, and individuals are making informed choices about what to learn and where to learn it. The transition to a green economy presents particular skills challenges because the information available to those in the system may reflect current realities, but not what may be a rapid change in labour markets.

That is to say, what is considered a green skill in today’s industries may be outdated in the sustainable industries of the future. This can be difficult to handle because there is a lead time for individuals to acquire skills, meaning it will be increasingly important for businesses to consider their potential skills-needs well in advance, and plan accordingly.

In Enabling the transition to a green economy, the Government set out various measures to support green skills in the context of the national skills strategy. These measures included a new ‘skills for a green economy’ group of sector skills Ccouncils and others to help business understand and address skills needs, improving the quality of green skills training programmes in the further education and skills system and making funding available for up to 1,000 Green Deal Apprenticeships (subject to business take up).

Businesses in some sectors, such as waste management, are already identifying specific skills at all levels that they will need in a green economy. For example, to secure energy generation from offshore wind, necessary skills will include planning and development professionals, engineers, technicians and others.

For the construction industry to retrofit housing stock as a result of the Green Deal, technicians such as electricians and plumbers with additional skills will be needed. Businesses in some other parts of the economy, such as food and agriculture, have also identified skills needs to support the transition to the green economy, but there remain a significant number yet to consider how this transition will change their skills needs.

Overall there is evidence that businesses are cuncertain about their future green skills needs. The main contributing factors are uncertainties about the skills requirements, opportunities and implications of a green economy, and the overall rate of progress towards a green economy.

But there are more embedded issues, including a tendency to over-rely on current skills rather than anticipating change or high labour turnover, which can reduce the incentive to invest in key up-skilling. Some businesses also report concerns over a lack of higher-level skills and the availability and quality of skills.

The Skills for a green economy report sets out a range of actions to underpin the Government’s pledge to ensure that the skills system responds to the demand for skills created by the shift to a green economy. It describes the measures listed above and sets out in some detail the evidence underpinning them.

This is in the context of a demand-led system set out in the skills strategy which signalled a shift from top-down initiatives to a responsive, unified skills system which employers can harness for their own purposes in localities, sectors or supply chains. Business knows best what skills, competency levels, professionals and technical solutions it needs to boost productivity and business success.

Taking this work forward is the Green Economy Council (GEC), a group of high-level business leaders from a cross-section of industries and sectors that advises Government on green growth policies such as infrastructure, innovation, investment and regulation. The Council uniquely brings together the Secretaries of State from three key departments – BIS, DECC and Defra.

The GEC identified skills for the green economy as one issue that merited further investigation, and therefore approved the establishment of a green economy taskforce to take forward a project on that subject. A key question for the taskforce will be to consider how businesses and the agencies could be further assisted to articulate effectively their skills needs related to the green economy. The taskforce is expected to present its findings to the GEC early next year.

The full version of this article originally appeared as a series of essays in Sustainable skills: The future of the waste management industry, published by the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group. The full report can be accessed here

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