New report says energy sector upskilling crisis is damaging UK's chances to hit net zero goals

Our research explores the readiness of the UK energy sector workforce to meet the Government's ambition to decarbonise the energy system by 2035

06 July 2023

It has never been more critical for the UK to move towards greener sources of energy production and our efforts must be bold if we are to meet our commitments in the race against climate change. Yet many UK energy workers don’t believe the sector is adequately prepared for a green future. That’s according to new research from City & Guilds, the global skills development organisation, and EngineeringUK, which surveyed 1,000 energy sector workers, including 500 in high carbon energy industries (such as oil and gas), and 500 in low carbon industries (such as wind, solar and nuclear). 

In the month that the Climate Change Committee report criticises a failure of action on climate goals, employees in the energy sector identified a worrying lack of leadership and support in the drive to decarbonisation in UK energy. Our new research found that just 42% of energy sector workers felt that businesses were ready to meet the commitment to decarbonise the energy sector by 2035, with just 42% believing that the Government was doing enough to support this change.  

Less than 46% felt that they personally had the skills required to support a zero-carbon energy system by 2035. That’s particularly worrying when we consider that jobs in high carbon industries in particular are expected to decline in the near future. In fact, 60% of those working in this sector believe the move to decarbonise the power system will put their jobs at risk within the next two years alone (by 2025). Meanwhile, over half (55%) of those working in high carbon roles say they don’t feel hopeful about the plans to reach decarbonisation by 2035.

The good news is that these employees are open to the transition. In fact, 91% are willing to consider a role in low carbon industries now or in the future.

This comes as the energy jobs market is already undergoing seismic shifts. Lightcast data finds that demand for low carbon workers is skyrocketing. For example, job postings for renewable energy managers grew by a staggering 1114% from 2019 to 2022. In contrast, job postings for oil and gas analysts have declined by 43.4% in the same time period which could present a major barrier to the energy sector meeting its targets. 

But there are a myriad of barriers preventing people from moving to low carbon roles. The research found that only a third (33%) of energy workers think that they have the skills they need to succeed in meeting the future demands of the energy sector. On top of this, a quarter of energy sector employees (26%) cited that they don’t know how to access training that will allow them to adapt to future changes in the industry. 

Andy Moss, Chief Customer Officer at City & Guilds said: “It’s great to know that over 90% of the high carbon energy workforce are interested in transitioning to greener jobs. To meet the skills needs of the sector, it’s vital we create opportunities for people to do just that."

“Yet, many employers have told us that uncertainty over the timing and scope of major energy projects inhibits their ability to invest in skills for the long-term. We must unite to tackle this, with industry and government working in partnership to equip the energy workforce with the green skills required for the future. If we don’t act now, we’ll almost certainly lose the race to a more sustainable future.”

Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK said

“The sector must work together with government to grow a diverse workforce able to achieve joint aims and ensure its prosperity into the future. The numbers in vocational training and studying at university are insufficient to meet demand. So, in addition to reskilling and retraining those already in work, it’s imperative there’s a sustained and growing investment in training and education, including apprenticeships, T levels and academic routes. 

"It's vital to invest in bringing a more diverse range of new entrants into engineering and technology, giving more young people from a wider range of backgrounds the chance to pursue a rewarding career and bring their different perspectives to the fore. Only by improving workforce diversity and enjoying the breadth of talent available can the sector fill its skills and labour gaps and maximise its innovation.” 

Nick Worpole, Associate Director EMEA at Spencer Ogden, a global energy and infrastructure recruitment firm, said: “There is a huge opportunity for workers in oil and gas industries to transfer their skills and experience to low carbon energy industries. But not all employers recognise this potential. And this is not only holding back candidates from moving across to roles in low carbon energy, but it’s also preventing employers from recruiting the skilled people they need."

“As the need for talent in low carbon energy grows, employers in these industries need to change their perspective and recognise that if they’re to solve immediate and longer-term skills shortages, they need to take advantage of the huge wealth of knowledge, skills and experience that workers can transfer across from high carbon energy sectors. And they should offer opportunities for candidates to upskill and get key qualifications as part of their onboarding.”

Elena Magrini, Head of Global Research at Lightcast, added: “The public policy drive towards a low carbon energy supply will have seismic impacts on the energy labour market."

“The key to adapting to these changes is to think less in terms of changes to industries and jobs, and much more in terms of skills. Skills are the building blocks of the labour market, and by seeking to understand the sorts of skills that are needed for a successful energy transition, we’ll be in a far better position to understand the training needed for new workers, and the upskilling that can be given to existing workers – particularly in the energy sector – to transfer to new energy sectors."

“For the Government to achieve its aims, it will need to set about understanding the skills that are needed, and work with education providers, economic developers and employer groups to ensure the right education and training programmes are in place to deliver.”

Download the report


In its new report Bright Futures: Decarbonising the UK’s Energy Workforce, City & Guilds has set out key recommendations for employers, Government and educators:

  1. We need stronger policy frameworks that provide commitment and certainty to the market, enabling industry to invest in skills with confidence.
  2. We need to work locally and collaboratively to support levelling up and a just transition.
  3. We must invest in skills and lifelong learning.
  4. We need to collaborate on skills, training and qualifications to support a robust skills pipeline.

To find out more or speak to a City & Guilds spokesperson, contact:

firstlight group

T +44 7860 650103 / +44 7999 927472