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Latest research from Onward – Qualifying for the race to net zero – discusses the skills challenge

Onward the campaigning thinktank has published its latest research report, Qualifying for the race to net zero, which assesses the labour market challenge of the transition to net zero emissions and puts forward a nine-point plan to plug the green skills gap in the UK.

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Onward Report - Qualifying for the race to net zero
Onward Report - Qualifying for the race to net zero

The report identifies that radical changes in policy would be required to retrain or upskill millions of workers in both high-tech STEM roles and low- and medium-skilled technical qualifications to meet the challenge of net zero. Quick action is required from ministers to meet the Prime Minister’s pledge to deliver a “Green Industrial Revolution”.

The report includes a comprehensive analysis of the current skill and wage levels of incumbent carbon intensive industries and compares them to that of low carbon and renewable sectors. It finds that:

  • In total, an estimated 3.2 million workers in the UK will need to increase their skill level or retrain in a new qualification to meet the Government’s commitment to decarbonise the economy by 2050.
  • Some sectors are more heavily affected than others. Almost one in three workers in construction (30%) will need upskilling along with over one in four workers in transport and storage (26%).
  • The average skill requirement of a job in a carbon-intensive industry is 46% lower than the average net zero job, and net zero workers have qualification levels that are on average 24% higher than carbon-intensive workers.

Research identified the considerable opportunity if ministers can seize them. Net zero jobs have a median annual gross income of £37,190 for full-time employees, 18% higher than the national average and 30% higher than jobs in current carbon-intensive industries. This means that for every £1 earnt in a carbon intensive industry, a worker in a net zero transition industry would earn £1.30. Net zero industries also have a smaller gender pay gap than the national average, with male salaries 17% higher than females, compared to 21% nationwide.

Some parts of the country are more exposed to this shift than others. The regions which stand to disproportionately benefit from net zero are the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. These regions make up 24.2% and 18.2% of areas in the top quintile of areas where there is high potential for industrial emissions abatement and a higher average skill level within the workforce.

The report puts forward a series of recommendations for the Government to tackle the skills challenge, including:

  • Introduce a Green Human Capital Tax Credit to encourage employers to invest in the skills of their employees
  • Develop new Apprenticeship Standards, T Levels and Degree Apprenticeships to provide net-zero industries with the opportunity to grow their workforces
  • Fund 2,800 net zero aligned PhDs to bolster domestic engineering expertise
  • Review the free qualifications offered within the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, to ensure the key qualifications required for buildings retrofit are included to help realise the estimated 900,000 – 1.3 million new jobs that will be required in this space by 2030
  • Establish a number of prestigious Net Zero Academies to address the low skills penetration in regions which also suffer from a high proportion of jobs in carbon-intensive industries

Ted Christie-Miller, senior researcher and report co-author, said:

“At present the UK workforce is woefully prepared for the transition to net zero emissions. If we want people to take advantage of the opportunities of a green economy, and the well-paid green collar jobs it will provide, urgent action is needed to upskill and train people up and down the country.

This report provides a blueprint for the Government to give businesses the tools to invest in their own workforce and workers the opportunities to improve their skills to grasp the full benefits of the net zero transition. There is no time to waste.”

Dame Caroline Spelman, co-chair of the Getting to Zero commission added:

“It is crucial we equip our workforce with the skills to achieve Net Zero by 2050, to support social justice as well as to pursue decarbonisation in the UK.”

Gareth Davies MP for Grantham and member of the levelling up taskforce said:

“We face a titanic challenge to upskill the UK workforce for the net zero transition. As this report by Onward shows, we desperately need to increase the level of technical expertise across the country if we are to realise our emissions targets. If we get this right, the green transition can also be a tool for upward social mobility, as green jobs are better paid and often more resilient than other careers.

One such way to build this skills base is by re-evaluating the role of further education colleges. I welcome Onward’s recommendation to transform a suite of further education colleges into net zero academies.”

Full details of the report are available on Unlock Net Zero Resources.

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