Net-zero must be embedded in school curriculums, Aldersgate Group urges

The Aldersgate Group has warned that a skills deficit is hampering the growth of the UK's low-carbon economies and called for environmental sustainability to be embedded in national school curriculums and higher and further education offerings.

The measures outlined would create talent for sectors like renewable energy generation, electric and active transport and nature conservation and restoration 

The measures outlined would create talent for sectors like renewable energy generation, electric and active transport and nature conservation and restoration 

In a new briefing paper published today (15 October), the group, which represents dozens of the UK’s largest businesses, reveals that more than nine in ten UK businesses believe they are facing a skills deficit, with the problem most pronounced in Yorkshire and the Humber, the West Midlands and the North East.

This challenge could be tackled in a manner which simultaneously drives progress towards the UK’s long-term climate targets and its short-term need to boost employment and the economy in the wake of Covid-19, the paper explains.

It recommends that facets of the UK’s education system are changed at all stages. For primary and secondary schools, national curriculums should be changed so that environmental sustainability is “embedded” in and beyond sciences and geography. One recent survey found that more than one-third of UK pupils don’t think they’re taught enough about environmental degradation. Teacher training courses should also be altered to help teachers facilitate this shift, as some three-quarters of teachers believe they aren’t adequately equipped to educate on topics like climate change, and Ofsted should judge schools against these metrics too.

As for higher and further education, the briefing outlines the benefits of supporting colleges and universities to tailor qualifications that equip students with the skills needed to contribute to local low-carbon sectors, and to forge business and government partnerships. Institutions in London, Oxford and Cambridge have historically benefitted from these kinds of partnerships more regularly, and at a greater scale, than other regions, the paper argues. This will need to be addressed if the Conservative Party is to achieve its vision of “levelling up” local economies across the UK.

There are particular issues for those turning to higher or further education for mid-career reskilling, according to the report. It states that new, short-term training courses and qualifications for those looking to transition into low-carbon sectors should be created by further education institutions and supported by the government as a matter of urgency – for example, to help those affected by the pandemic-related slump in oil demand.

Apprenticeships are a further challenge – and one which the government is under mounting pressure to address, given that Covid-19-related redundancies have disproportionately affected young people. The Aldersgate Group recommends that businesses are incentivised or mandated to provide apprentices with the core skills needed to work in low-caron sectors.

“Skills policy has been a missing link in the UK’s clean growth ambitions for too long,” the Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho said.

Together with developing a comprehensive policy plan to put the UK on track for its target, the government must prioritise the development of an ambitious and carefully co-ordinated low carbon skills strategy and ensure that educational institutions across the country are supported in this process.” 

To Molho’s latter point, the Group recently published a separate briefing with recommendations for joining up net-zero-aligned policymaking across all sectors. Business Secretary and COP26 President Alok Sharma recently told MPs that the cabinet is working to reach a holistic, joined-up policy landscape for “just” action on decarbonisation but struggled to produce examples from work to date.

Green-collar jobs

The new policy briefing has received support from universities including Anglia Ruskin and Edinburgh and businesses like Siemens, KPMG and Willmott Dixon.

National Grid has also offered its backing. Earlier this year, the organisation published analysis which concluded that more than 117,000 roles will need to be filled in the energy sector by 2030, and a further 283,000 by 2050, if the UK is to meet its net-zero target.

While these roles would be spread across the UK, benefitting communities in Scotland, Northumberland, Yorkshire and the Humber and the East of England, as well as the South East, the analysis, National Grid warned that these benefits would not be reaped without both increased investment and a refashioned approach to skills.

Rishi Sunak was reportedly set to launch a dedicated fund for reskilling Brits to work in the renewable energy, cleantech and built environment sectors at the Summer Economic Update or Winter Economy Plan. This plan did not come to fruition, amid a wave of local lockdown restrictions being introduced, but it may still feature in the 2021 Budget.

Elsewhere, 24 local authorities have jointly formed the Resilient Recovery Taskforce – a coalition which will continue to urge the Treasury to implement a ‘New Deal for Green Skills and Growth’. Members of the Taskforce have also vowed to support reskilling and green growth in their own Covid-19 recovery package, regardless of central Government provisions. UK100 is coordinating the Taskforce’s work.

Sarah George



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