A symbiotic relationship: Levelling Up and Net Zero

As the world waits expectantly for the discussions, decisions and outcomes of the upcoming COP27 Summit, we at City & Guilds are strengthening our responsible business agenda with one of the key pillars being to reduce our carbon impact and achieve Net Zero by 2040. As part of the review we are looking internally how we build sustainability into our decision-making processes and externally how we support the drive to a fairer, sustainable future by embedding decarbonisation into our products and services.

22 September 2022

We’ll be sharing updates on our responsible business journey and plans over the coming months. In the meantime, you can see at the end of this article some of the green skill areas we have been launching. We recently hosted a conversation between City & Guilds’ CEO, Kirstie Donnelly, and three partners, to discuss the importance of green skills in transitioning to a low carbon economy and contributing to the UK government’s levelling up agenda

Recorded as a podcast, our guests brought valuable insight to the discussion: 

  • Lizzie Lyons – Head of Skills, Business West
  • Venetia Knight – Head of Employment and Enterprise, Groundwork
  • Rebecca Durber – Director of Public Affairs, AELP

Together, we explored the symbiosis between the UK’s skills shortage and our somewhat sluggish progression toward the country’s Net Zero goals, how education and upskilling is a practical solution to levelling up, and how much this is recognised by national leadership. 

We uncover some of these insights, in this article. 

What’s standing in the way of Net Zero? 

As most industries are reliant on technology and infrastructure, the Net Zero goal is expected to impact just about every sector. 

City & Guilds’ recent Levelling Up the UK report, compiled in partnership with Emsi Burning Glass, shines a light on the UK’s essential industries specifically, and the skills shortage challenges we face. When we look a little deeper, we can see how these shortages not only impact the UK from an economic point of view, but from a sustainability perspective too. 

As an example, shared by Kirstie Donnelly, recent research shows us that only a fraction of our electricians are trained to install the vehicle charging infrastructure required to support the switch to electrical vehicles. At the current rate of installation, only 77,000 charging points will be installed by 2030, a mere 23% of the planned 325,000 points needed by then. 

This demonstrates how a shortage of skills – and especially decarbonisation skills – could hamper our efforts to reach net zero goals. We have to ask the questions: what is hindering the development of these skills, and how can we do better? 

Lack of awareness

According to Lizzie Lyons, raising awareness lies at the heart of building a cleaner and fairer future. Many SMEs and corporations have not even embarked on the first step of measuring and understanding their own carbon footprint, let alone establishing what green skills will be needed in the future. And it’s not for lack of interest or care – they simply don’t know where to start. 

Opportunity disparities between regions

There are stark disparities in the levels of qualifications that people hold, across the country. While Londoners are almost 50% more likely to have a Level 4 or above qualification, residents of the West Midlands are twice as likely to have no formal qualifications whatsoever. We can’t ignore that there are large pockets of willing, working-aged people who simply don’t have access to the means to develop much-needed skills. 

Outright resistance sustainable practices

Rebecca Durber points out that as the transition is made to a zero-carbon economy, we can expect 2 million jobs to open up during the process. While this is an exciting prospect, it can be scary for those people whose jobs will change, or be phased out. Without access to information or guidance as to where to begin learning new skills, these people often perceive the green agenda as a threat, more than an opportunity. 

Call for greater clarity of funding schemes

With so many emerging markets, and so many government-funded initiatives to address skills shortages and the green agenda, the DfE has become an overwhelming space to navigate, even for the most proficient FE learning providers. Although well-intentioned, all these overlapping programmes may be far more effective if they complemented each other, instead of competing with each other.

Exploring solutions and mindsets that bring change

What’s encouraging to know is that the majority of young people today are genuinely interested in finding work that has value for the greater good, and there could be no finer cause in today’s day and age than making a positive contribution to the climate emergency.

That said, what can we do to appeal to young people just starting out, as well as those already working, to embark on sustainability-focused careers for this greater good?

Some snapshot solutions could include:

  • Create awareness and hype around the many emerging career opportunities, in all sectors – reaching scholars, 16+ students and working aged adults in other careers.
  • Help businesses to better understand and navigate the complexities of the adult and work-based learning environment, as well as clearer funding options available to their workforce.
  • Ensure that colleges and universities, as well as employers, keep a flexible approach to developing skills, to adapt to rapid changes in sectors and technologies.
  • Develop greater awareness and understanding of sustainability amongst the FE workforce, to not only better embed sustainability across the curriculum but to empower the FE sector to coordinate the right solutions for industry needs.
  • Make the relevant skills development opportunities available to marginalised or vulnerable groups, such as prison leavers or those in hard-to-reach, poorest areas.
  • Drive government-funded initiatives as far as possible, in order to make use of the resources at our disposal for optimal progression toward Net Zero.

As always, it starts ‘at home’

The Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education goal is to develop a strategic, sector-wide approach to tackle the climate emergency. The Commission engaged Nous Group (a management consulting firm specialising in education) to support them to develop a ‘road map’ for further education colleges to reach the net zero target.

To quote a recent FE Week article on the topic of sustainability, “Most colleges start with a curricular response, but quickly find that they cannot change curriculum in isolation. Quickly, it becomes evident that they must also reconsider campus, community and culture. What we learn can’t be separated from where, who with and how.”

The Climate Action Roadmap for FE Colleges provides an excellent model to chart a sustainable journey with and gives an at-a-glance view on the level of sustainable maturity that a provider is at: Emerging, Established or Leading.

While on one hand, the immediate problem appears to be a shortage of workers with the necessary green skills, we believe that as education providers, our first responsibility goes far beyond mere skills. We aspire to share a vision that puts the greater good at the center of all outcomes, to develop learners with integrity toward the climate and ultimately, workers who will make the changes necessary in their communities and cultures as a whole – millions of small changes that collectively make the difference we are all after.

Talk to us about green skills opportunities

We welcome your interest in City & Guilds' green skills programmes of learning. You can read more about how resettlement prisons are now delivering a mix of practical learning and classroom-based activities with a focus on carbon literacy, construction and land management following Groundwork being awarded a Future Skills Commission for Prisons grant from City & Guilds Foundation. You can also talk to us about the various green skill qualifications that recently went live which provide awareness in sustainability and the green environment, maintain electric vehicles, install electric vehicle chargers as well as our retrofit qualification that will provide the skills to start transforming existing buildings to become more energy efficient. Browse the opportunities here, or call us on 01924 206709.

If you’d like to hear more, tune into the podcast here and keep an eye out for our next podcast that will be looking at skills in the energy sector.