Imperial College London

Grantham Institute Director of Policy & Translation speaks at green skills event

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Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy and Translation speaking on the panel.

On the day the CCC called green skills a ‘key enabler’ towards net-zero, a Forum event explored how the government could deliver its green skills plan

The Forum, Imperial’s policy engagement programme, partnered with think-tank, Institute for Government (IfG) to consider how the government can make its green skills plan deliver for net-zero? The event was the third in a Forum-IfG series on net-zero and the role of science and technology in helping to achieve climate ambitions. Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy and Translate at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment was joined on the panel by Sam Alvis, Head of Economy at Green Alliance; Ian O’Donnell, Net-Zero and Special Projects Lead at the Federation of Small Businesses; and Tom Sasse, Associate Director of the IfG.

Current Situation

The Green Jobs Task Force report identified hundreds of thousands of green jobs in the near future across the energy sector, automotive, construction through to land management and professional services. Although there is a significant gap in green skills in the UK to fill these gaps, Alyssa stated she is optimistic about solving the challenge.

The higher education (HE) sector is building relationships with further education (FE) to ensure the offers are complementary and provide broad coverage.

There is a growing stream of master’s courses, including MSc Climate Change, Management and Finance at Imperial Business School, that provide traditional skills plus green-specific skill sets. But it is not just about providing specific targeted courses.

Alyssa noted that everyone should leave school and university with some understanding of the net-zero challenge. At Imperial, undergraduates have access to Grantham’s online training as part of the I-STEM units that undergraduates choose from, regardless of discipline.

The scale of the challenge demands big ambitions Alyssa Gilbert Director of Policy and Translation, The Grantham Institute.

Young people often have the right attitude and drive to tackle climate change, but they need knowledge and guidance on how to direct that energy. Some of the skills that are required are soft skills: being adaptable and flexible, and good at merging social sciences with engineering and natural sciences. Through the UK Universities Climate Network (UUCN), the HEI sector has developed some collective thinking about the next steps required to deliver education for green skills.

The trainers themselves also need to be trained. Alyssa noted an Aldersgate group report that showed 75% teachers felt ill equipped to teach about climate change and Alyssa and her colleagues do already visit many schools, but she also pointed to online training as a way to scale up this kind of continuous professional development, where demand his high.

The Grantham Institute have also held talks for students studying global public health for example, to give them an appreciation of the transition and how they could apply it in future work.

According to Sam, skills gaps are largest in sectors where the biggest emissions reductions are required and called for more training. He characterised the problem as being with the current not the future workforce. Ian emphasised that the ageing workforce was a challenge with older workers more reluctant to reskill to green jobs, and that SMEs or sole traders need assurances that retraining wouldn’t lose them time or money at a difficult time.

Reskilling Gap

According to Tom, the skills gap is indicative of decades of failure in adult education and a lack of action on technical education. He listed the paucity of engineering skills in government as a problem. Sam called for the government to set out its view of the skills required and where areas would be considered strategic priorities to give confidence to people and businesses to retrain.

The higher education sector, might need to expand its perspective on teaching. Imperial and most other universities offer some type of Executive education, but still don’t see their role as one of skilling or re-skilling the existing workforce.

Alyssa suggested that a focus on place-based skill needs and training could pull together the multiple actors: employers, universities, local workers and communities in a way that focuses on the skills most likely to be needed in each region. Where green skills relate to renewable energy resources, for example, it is straightforward to identify the skills that are most needed in each region.

Ian cautioned that, with the UK already at near full employment, movement of workers into green skills roles could see them leave other sectors and thought would need to be given to the impact of such changes.

Setting Direction

With the Green Jobs Taskforce launched in December 2020, Alyssa said that a demand-led approach would have the biggest impact. She described a need for the government to set out a clear and consistent path that the energy sector could follow highlighting how HE and FE already collaborate closely with local government on education.

Reflecting on what action the panellists would like to see from the government, the panellists were united in calling for it to provide clarity and firm policy direction to drive the demand for skills, and therefore the provision of training. Ian called for government to create demand by offering incentives, citing the solar industry as an example. Sam continued with the need for consistent policy positions with incentives offered and remaining in place to allow industry to adapt, rather than being offered and later withdrawn as we have seen recently with a range of different heat pump and home decarbonisation policies with short lifetimes.  

Tom said he felt the government had grasped the scale of the challenge but without an action plan individual sectors would continue making their own plans and a lack of coherence would emerge across the sector.

Perhaps, according to Alyssa, we don’t need to focus on the green jobs label. We needed it in the past to clarify that we can move in a greener direction and also create jobs and support the economy.  However, not everyone wants a ‘green job’. They just want high-quality employment. She continued that we want people to see that retraining or adopting green skills will not only help realise climate ambitions but, perhaps most importantly, provide financial benefits and longevity in their careers.

Reporter

James Heyburn

James Heyburn
Communications Division

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