Government support needed to ‘mainstream’ green jobs, say IEMA and CISL leads

To deliver its vision of having two million people in green jobs by 2030, the UK Government will need to develop a joined-up strategy and a body with "teeth" to close the skills gap and create the roles of the future.

Government support needed to ‘mainstream’ green jobs, say IEMA and CISL leads

Pictured: Eliot Whittington (top left) and Sarah Mukherjee in conversation with edie's content director Luke Nicholls

That was one of the key messages given by IEMA’s chief executive Sarah Mukherjee and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s (CISL) director of policy Eliot Whittington, as they provided the keynote speeches at edie’s Sustainability Skills Seminar today (4 February).

Mukherjee, who held leadership positions at the Crop Protection Association and Water UK in the past and also spent eight years as the BBC’s environment correspondent, told of how the inquiries currently being carried out on green jobs and skills by MPs are almost identical to those of decades past.

“I’ve been involved in environmental policy for more than 20 years and, perhaps rather depressingly, the main asks… have all stayed in the same position. Usually, that is due to a lack of joined-up thinking – something that governments, politicians, ministers and thought leaders all say they want, but is, remarkably, still lacking in quite a lot of areas.”

The current Government has also been criticised along these lines by the likes of the Climate Change Committee and Aldersgate Group.

“To really drive the integration of net-zero and environmental thinking into the economy, it’s really important that we view skills in a systematic way,” Mukherjee said. “For that reason, we think there should be a green jobs and skills commission or something similar. People, quite rightly, will be out there thinking: ‘here we go, another commission’. But the evidence from our colleagues proves that, over the past 10 years, we just haven’t moved fast enough. We need something with some teeth to really drive consistency of approach across all areas of government and education.”

Such a commission, she argued, could help develop a “lifelong” approach to learning in the UK. Under such a model, climate change and the environment would become parts of the school curriculum and of higher education programmes – but they would also be posed as opportunities for internships and mid-career learning.

A commission could also, it was agreed, help to scale up the green economy by moving it from its position as an add-on.

Pointing to the need for, for example, sustainable procurement professionals and experts in developing and delivering net-zero strategies, Mukherjee said: “The Government’s ambition of two million green jobs by 2030 is admirable, but we don’t agree that they will only be found in the sectors needed to deliver low-carbon infrastructure…. This is really important, obviously, but there are already thousands of businesses which have green jobs… “We very strongly believe that, until you mainstream green – until it’s not sitting out there, that it’s part of the fabric of the mainstream economy – we won’t really be able to drive the net-zero gains and future that we are looking to desperately meet.”

Eliot Whittington

Whittington agreed, broadly, with Mukherjee’s statements. CISL is notably a proponent of the creation of a green skills strategy, outlining how the UK plans to meet its 2030 target and providing interim, sector-specific supports.

He said: “When we talk about green jobs and sustainability skills, we sometimes fall into the rabbit hole of talking about them as a separate beast to the rest of the economy; something that’s happening independently. That’s not the case.”

While calling the sectors currently classed as the “green economy” by the government, such as electric vehicles and renewable electricity generation, “hallmarks of the new economy”, he argued that there is risk without the skills pipeline to scale them up to “mainstream level”. Moreover, he argued that there has been a historic tendency to value hard skills and sustainability-linked titles over soft skills.

“If you look at the UK’s building sector, for example…. We find that the skills base is insufficient to deliver the scale and the pace of renovation that we need,” he said, alluding to alleged issues with the delivery of the Green Homes Grant.

When asked which actors will play a key role in delivering the strategy, Whittington argued the case for collaborative work across and between government departments, in collaboration with businesses and citizens’ groups.  

Ultimately, he said, the best chance of success is linking green jobs to the Prime Minister’s existing priorities. He concluded: “If the sustainability agenda is part of, or linked to, the whole levelling up agenda, we can get jobs and skills in new parts of the economy to areas where we want to see redevelopment and more action. It needs to be something where everybody has a route in.”

Current state of play

The Government recently launched a Green Jobs Taskforce – a coalition of businesses, education providers and NGOs.

The body’s job is to help unemployed people and those in transitioning industries into new, skilled jobs, while developing a roadmap to scale up this work in the long-term. The Taskforce does not have any legal powers, however, to hold departments to account.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak was reportedly planning to launch a dedicated fund for reskilling Brits to work in the renewable energy, cleantech and built environment sectors, coupled with additional investment in these sectors to assist with their expansion, last year. But no such move was forthcoming. The next chance will be next month’s Budget.

Pre-pandemic, Government figures revealed that turnover in the UK’s green economy accounted for just 1% of national non-financial turnover. Similar investigations into official jobs figures found that while domestic jobs in the renewable energy sector rose year-on-year in 2018 and 2019, they were ultimately down by around one-third on 2014 levels.

Stay in the loop after edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum 2021

From Tuesday 2 to Thursday 4 February 2021, edie’s award-winning Sustainability Leaders Forum event returned in a brand new virtual format. Over the three-day event, hundreds of CSR, sustainability and energy professionals listened to high-level speeches from the likes of Jonathan Porritt and Andrew Griffith MP, and co-created solutions to pressing challenges in interactive workshops. 

There were also virtual exhibitions, speed networking sessions, live polls and interactive panel discussions. 

To find out more about the agenda and stay in the loop for next year’s Forum, visit: 

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie