Net zero ‘skills deficit’ must be tackled

The Aldersgate Group has published a briefing, Upskilling the UK workforce for the 21st century, calling for urgent action to plug the deficit in skills that currently undermines the growth of low carbon supply chains across the UK economy.

It calls for a new low carbon skills strategy that embeds sustainability across the national curriculum and teacher training standards, supports higher and further education institutions to better meet the needs of local employers and updates apprenticeship standards and mid-career reskilling qualifications to equip the workforce with the skills needed in a net zero emissions economy.

Against the backdrop of COVID, but also recognising the significant job creation potential provided by the transition to a net zero emissions economy, the Aldersgate Group argues that low-carbon skills provision must become a national policy priority.

Building on the Government’s announcement to expand post-18 education and training, a comprehensive low carbon skills strategy is called for, based on five key recommendations:

1. Environmental sustainability and the net zero goal should be fully embedded in the national curriculum across all stages of the education system from primary to tertiary education. This should include a requirement on Further and Higher Education Institutions to put in place skills’ action plans to ensure students are provided with the right practical skills when they leave and to address the lack of gender and ethnic diversity in STEM subjects that will be increasingly key in a net zero emissions economy;

2. This focus on sustainability should be fully reflected in teaching qualifications and the governance of the education system. With 75% of teachers saying they haven’t received adequate training to educate students about climate change, the Aldersgate Group calls for teaching standards and the Initial Teacher Training Content Framework to be updated to equip teachers with the right knowledge. The briefing also argues that regulatory bodies such as Ofsted should be required to place greater emphasis on quality of sustainability teaching as part of their assessment of schools and other educational institutions.

3. Higher Education and Further Education Institutions should be supported and encouraged to tailor courses, training and qualifications that more closely match the needs of local employers and low carbon job creation. The employer-led STEM education and training curriculum put in place by the Newcastle College Energy Academy, which is training future engineers and technicians in the renewable energy sector, provides a good example in this regard.

4. Funding, research and development support, and business partnerships need to be increasingly targeted to educational institutions that are not located in the ‘Golden Triangle’ between Oxford, Cambridge and London and which have received less support to date. This is essential to ensure that education institutions across the country are well equipped to provide the low carbon skills required in their area. Businesses in the offshore wind sector which have regularly supported local University Technical Colleges and universities in the areas they operate provide a good precedent for other businesses to follow.

5. To have an effective net zero education system, the UK needs to reform its approach to apprenticeship standards and mid-career reskilling. Apprenticeship standards should require and incentivise businesses to provide their apprentices with core low carbon skills that go beyond a business’ immediate and short-term priorities. Recognising the complexities of mid-career reskilling, government policy should support Higher Education Institutions to develop new, short-term training and qualifications on low carbon skills to make it easier for those already on the job market to transition towards employment opportunities in a net zero emissions economy.

Nick Molho, Executive Director of the Aldersgate Group, said: “Skills policy has been a missing link in the UK’s clean growth ambitions for too long. The move to a net zero emissions economy comes with a significant job creation potential which is matched by growing public enthusiasm to play an active role in this transition. Together with putting together a comprehensive policy plan to put the UK on track for its target, government must prioritise the development of an ambitious and carefully co-ordinated low carbon skills strategy and ensure that education institutions across the country are supported in this process.”

Lexie Jones, CEO at Change Agents UK, said: “We strongly support the call for a national skills strategy that integrates efforts from government, business and the education sector to focus on the delivery of the challenging targets for Net Zero and the Sustainable Development Goals. Young people who were already facing a precarious future have seen this further compromised by the COVID19 pandemic – we must act now to ensure they have the skills, knowledge and experience they will need to succeed as we enter this most challenging global period.”

Iain Patton, CEO at EAUC, said: “The Higher and Further Education sectors have been taking steps towards Net Zero and slowly bridging the skills gap for many years. Recently, we have seen a huge step forwards in this sector on the Net Zero agenda, with a new education Climate Commission creating climate action roadmaps and the sector working collaboratively to ensure education is ahead of the curve. The skills disconnect now needs to take a similar sized step to ensure young people are receiving future-proofed qualifications, and those in work and unemployed are upskilled to maximise the opportunities a  low carbon economy will bring.”

For more info visit: aldersgategroup.org.uk

 

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