A green skills crisis is coming to hit all businesses

Mat Ilic, former policy advisor to Theresa May and CEO of Greenworkx, explains why businesses need to take the skills agenda into their own hands
Mat Ilic
(Pic by Virginia Rowe)

There are an estimated 30 million green workers needed by 2030 to fill frontline net zero roles globally.

Contrary to what you might think, the bulk of these jobs won’t be tech- or science-focused. What the world needs now is skilled manual workers – technicians, engineers and retrofitters capable of installing EV charge points, heat pumps and solar panels on a truly massive scale.

The UK Government is targeting the creation of two million green jobs over the next seven years. Without these workers, the UK cannot hope to meet its overarching climate objectives.

And we are a long way short.

A failure to match skills supply with demand

I was working at 10 Downing Street when the UK made its legally-binding 2050 net zero commitments. Here was Britain playing a genuine leadership role around climate change.

Yet beneath the headline commitments, we have lost focus on the underlying detail of how we get to net zero and the economic realignment required – likely to represent the single greatest reallocation of capital and labour since the industrial revolution.

Our green workforce does not exist, nor is it currently in training. It’s emblematic of a longstanding misalignment of skills supply versus demand in the UK, one that has been exacerbated by the general labour shortages the UK has experienced in the post-Brexit, post-Covid world.

From fruit-pickers to tech developers, we can’t find the right workers to do the right jobs. And when it comes to green jobs, the most relevant talent – i.e. people in existing skilled manual professions – have no idea these roles even exist. Just one in every 10,000 workers leaving a traditional (i.e. non-green) job moves into a green one.

A green skills crisis will harm the entire economy

If the businesses responsible for carrying out vital installation, engineering and retrofitting cannot recruit the employees they need at wages they can afford, the pace of their work will inevitably slow, curtailing the growth of the green economy, and preventing the UK from achieving its climate goals.

But this is an issue that affects all businesses. As a business leader, if you can’t get heat pumps or solar panels installed, you’ll struggle to reduce your carbon footprint – a big problem given the growing eco-pressure you’ll be facing from customers, investors and even your own staff.

You’ll also continue to battle high and unpredictable energy prices, because the worker shortage will prevent the UK from progressing with its onshore green energy plans – a vital cog in its energy security strategy.

And because there is a general consensus that net zero has to happen, despite all of the geopolitical wrangling that goes on, the nations that struggle to reorient their workforces accordingly will become less competitive as the global economic realignment progresses. Failure to address the green skills crisis could mean your business ends up at a competitive disadvantage simply because it happens to be domiciled in the UK.

Thinking differently about skills development

The UK’s existing training ecosystem – which is built around traditional lecture-based training delivered over 2-3 year programmes – is hopelessly ill-equipped to redress the current misalignment of skills supply versus demand.

And what I learned during my time in Government is that it is incredibly difficult to ‘activate’ an entire workforce from Whitehall.

Hence, it must fall to the business community to pick up the baton and address Britain’s skills problem in unison.

Business leaders and their various member organisations should be relentlessly lobbying the Government for greater flexibility in how training and skills development funding – such as the apprenticeship levy – is allocated.

Entrepreneurs should be examining these labour force shortcomings and devising new and inventive ways to deliver training more efficiently, and to ensure the right people are targeted with the right job opportunities.

For our part, we’ve created a talent portal, network and career accelerator where people can discover new green jobs, learn practical green skills in the way best suited to their circumstances, and get matched to green opportunities.

But the pending green skills crisis must serve as the wake up call for all business leaders: it’s time to take the skills agenda into your own hands.

Written by
Mat Ilic
CEO of Greenworkx
July 18, 2023
Written by
July 18, 2023