Actions employers can take to close the green skills gap

Becky Schnauffer was right in her reflections on COP28: HR professionals will play a pivotal role in cultivating green skills within their organisation. And this is a responsibility shared by recruiters.

The difficult truth, which is not discussed nearly enough, is that the UK can only reach net zero by 2050 if people have the right skills to make this a reality.

Recruiters are central to understanding how the labour market works, especially at times like this when there is a tight jobs market in many sectors. Over the last few years, there has been a consistent demand from employers for high-quality recruitment consultancy services on how to navigate the current employment landscape and the approach to take around sustainability.

Net zero workforce to create 300 million jobs

Many of us care about climate change, and so it makes sense that we want to know our employer or future employer also takes climate change seriously, and that they have a plan. Within our sector, we regularly hear of candidates basing their recruitment decisions around the ESG commitments of a prospective employer. So, recruiters advise their clients to set their baseline and future targets on achieving ‘net zero’ – and then publish their plan. In publishing these commitments, it means that all staff – as well as customers – can know what the company is working towards.

The challenge of how to achieve net zero or offset carbon emissions can vary from sector to sector, which means each employer needs to consider the approach that works for them. It is often the case that achieving ‘full’ net zero takes collective thinking and action, and so there is a further win-win in involving your teams in these discussions. Overall, good ESG credentials are an invaluable part of any business’ successful recruitment and retention strategy.

Creating a net-zero ready workforce

Employers and recruiters have a further role to play in terms of informing the education and skills system we need to achieve net zero. The pace of change in the green economy is picking up, and will get faster still as we head towards milestone dates like 2050. It may feel like a long way off but the only way to achieve the goal of 2050 is to start planning our workforce skills needs now – which means our education system has to respond and change.

Government has a significant role to play here: in terms of shaping the curriculum, the provision of careers advice to young learners and career changers, and by offering investment subsidies that will deliver a strong return. Businesses can be encouraged to invest in green skills, if the apprenticeship levy could be flexed to cover shorter training courses and some of that funding is ring-fenced for green skills and jobs courses. Working with industry to streamline standards to help people move between sectors would also help employers recruit for our emerging skills needs.

But before all this, what is hampering better monitoring and understanding of green skills gaps is that there are so many different assumptions about what a green job actually is.

An obvious part of ensuring that we have the skills and workers needed to achieve net zero, is to have an agreed definition of a ‘green job’. Without a clearer definition, we can’t monitor where we are or set a target for the future. It makes it harder to identify any under-represented groups employed in green industries, identify the skills needed to fill such roles, to implement and evaluate the impact of government policies, and to identify the interventions still needed.

Green jobs of the future: meeting the demand-supply gap

Creating such a definition is one of the core recommendations we make in our new REC Manifesto: dynamic labour markets for growth. It’s a simple commitment that all political parties can give as they prepare for a general election and what comes next.

There are other things governments can do. From providing an incentive payment for businesses that invest in green skills, to using government-funded training and work schemes to promote the uptake of digital and green skills training. We need to learn from the past; just 1% of roles within the UK's Kickstart funding scheme were in green sectors.

Taken together, each of these steps and measures points towards the need for a single and long-term workforce plan, co-created by business and government. We need co-ordination, perhaps via a 'future workforce strategy group', which is asked to report to Parliament annually. This will help track regional green skills needs, identify challenges and propose the recommendations that can address them. Success will depend on many government departments being involved, and a collaborative effort across business and labour market experts, like recruiters and HR professionals. The strategy should also ensure devolved participation, so that each part of the UK is working towards a shared set of goals on net zero.

We know that prosperity comes from getting the people stuff right. And with green jobs now making up a third of job postings in the UK (according to a recent LinkedIn report), we really need to get the people stuff right when it comes to green jobs and green skills.

By Kate Shoesmith, deputy chief executive, REC