What are green skills and why are they essential for the future workforce?

From reaching net zero to protecting natural resources, investing in green jobs will be key.

21 April 2023

As governments and industries accelerate the push towards net zero, dedicating time and resources to creating a sufficiently skilled workforce is one of the most significant actions we can take to move towards a more sustainable economy.  

Green skills are the specific knowledge, abilities and values needed to promote the reduction of negative environmental impact in the workplace.  

Many people will be working towards net zero and sustainability goals in the ever-developing green industries, fitting solar panels or installing electric vehicle charge points. And more will be happening in industries that have not traditionally held green credentials. 

Green skills are slowly becoming more and more essential for employers who will have their own targets for sustainability, as well as striving to meet government guidelines which often have financial incentives attached.

The biggest reason to develop green skills is the potentially critical impact on the climate crisis. Architects with the right knowledge of sustainability and carbon emissions can choose greener materials for the buildings they design. Local councillors who understand electric vehicles can make better decisions about transport policies. Well-trained engineers can install more efficient heat pumps. All these changes can help reduce dependence on crucial resources and move us closer to net zero at a time when every action counts. 

Who needs green skills?

A common understanding of green skills is that they are solely relevant to more traditionally green industries but as we collectively focus more on our environmental impact, we are creating an employment market in which all jobs are becoming green jobs.

According to the pwc Green Jobs Barometer, green jobs are growing at around four times the rate of the overall UK job market. In order to be employable, green skills will soon be an entry level requirement for almost any role.

According to Dr Michael Cross, co-author of The Green Edge – a subscription newsletter aimed at teachers and education providers involved in green skills development – these skills are for everyone, no matter their job title: “There are the green skills that are going to touch the technology and make it happen, but there are also those skills at local level, often in local authorities, that can mobilise people and resources to get an agenda translated into action.”

Green skills are becoming hugely desirable for employers across the board as companies look for ways to be greener, wanting to comply with new regulations, take advantage of tax breaks and appeal to their target audience. While those who are self-employed don’t face the same pressure from a manager or recruitment team, competing for customers is now creating its own pressure as companies and individuals work to ensure the sustainability of their supply chains. 

“The majority of people who will help to reach net zero are already in the workforce in sectors like construction or engineering”

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How can we enable the upskilling of our workforce?

According to statistics included in the Global Green Skills Report 2022 from LinkedIn, 2019 saw a shift towards greener recruitment, with green workers hired at a higher rate globally than non-green workers for the first time. This is evidenced by an 8% increase in job postings requiring green skills each year from 2017 to 2022. However, this demand is not currently being met, with green talent only increasing by 6% each year over the same period.

If we want to ensure that we have the talent available to meet the increasing green demand, effective training needs to be made both available and attractive to as many people as possible. Governments and educational organisations need to work with industry experts to create courses and qualifications that suit the needs of employers and employees in every sector and at every level.

This training needs to be directed not just at new starters but at those who have been in their jobs for many years, as City & Guilds Net Zero Manager Martyn Poessinouw explains: “There are new areas of green skills that need to enter the workforce to support achieving a green economy, but the majority of people who will help to reach net zero are already in the workforce in sectors like construction or engineering. It’s not only about new flows into the workplace, but also about how we can reskill the existing workforce.”

The benefits and challenges of creating a greener workforce

For training courses – which can be time consuming or require significant resources – to appeal, potential learners need to be convinced of the benefits of acquiring green skills at a personal and a business level.

The demand for skilled employees is clear from job postings but for employers or the self-employed it may be harder to see the value in dedicating money or time to upskilling.

As well as playing a key role in reaching net zero targets, one of the biggest potential benefits is consumer appeal. A business with employees who can create more sustainable products can attract customers who are becoming more and more concerned with the environmental impact of their choices. According to An Eco-wakening, a report from The Economist Intelligence Unit which was commissioned by WWF, the popularity of Google searches related to sustainable goods increased by 71% between 2016 and 2021, with searches in the UK increasing eightfold in that time. 

Retrofit news sub imageThis applies to more than just the purchase of everyday items. With people, businesses and governments all beginning to prioritise reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainability, companies that do not align with these goals could end up unable to compete in the future. On an economic level as well as an environmental one, green upskilling makes sense for everyone.

This does not mean that it comes without challenges. According to 2022 government statistics 5.47 million of the UK’s 5.5 million private sector businesses have fewer than 50 employees. This number includes the many self-employed individuals working as electricians or engineers who play a vital role in changing how we use energy. These businesses are likely to be shorter on both money and time and are likely to struggle to find opportunities to focus on building green skills, even with the knowledge that it will pay off in the long-term. 

What we can do

At City & Guilds, we are committed to championing a sustainable society by developing qualifications that foster green skills, enabling individuals to play an active role in shaping a net zero future. Embracing these crucial skills allows us to empower individuals to make a lasting impact, building a resilient and prosperous world for generations to come. 

We’re proud to stand at the forefront of equipping the workforce with the knowledge and tools to navigate a rapidly evolving job market while meeting the demands of a greener future.  

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