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Upskilling for a greener economy

‘Transition to a green economy calls for a workforce with varied skills’

By Jana Skodlova, Chief executive, Energy Managers Association

The impetus to tackle climate change and reach net zero is growing. The government’s Energy White Paper published at the end of 2020 builds on the grand Ten-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. Climate change emergencies and net-zero aspirations have been expressed and manufacturers, as well as consumers, are eagerly shifting their focus to electric vehicles and fuel efficiency. 

These are all encouraging and welcomed actions, but let’s not forget, setting targets and gearing ourselves towards the challenge of meeting net zero is the easy part, putting plans into action will be another story.

A specific set of skills and expertise is required to tackle a challenge of this scale, and it is the responsibility of the government and all organisations to understand the skills and expertise required. Transition to a green economy will not happen if the UK does not deploy the right people with the right skills to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 100 per cent, to net zero, by 2050.

In the past, the concept of the energy trilemma and its aim to balance the security of supply, energy affordability and carbon emissions encouraged the development of skills towards the generation of energy and renewable technologies. In essence, skills were developed to satisfy the supply side of the energy market.

Transition to a green economy and reaching net-zero targets calls for a workforce with varied skills and understanding of the supply as well as demand side of energy. That includes not only skills in the renewable and low-carbon energy sector, but also skills enabling organisations to scrutinise their energy consumption, manage it efficiently and reach their carbon credentials in the required timeline. 

The combination of technical and operational expertise, and softer skills such as passion for applying sustainability measures and tackling climate change, will be vital for organisations to shift their net-zero vision into reality. 

It is predicted that skills enhancing clean electricity generation, installing energy-efficiency products, providing low-carbon services or manufacturing low-emission vehicles and infrastructure will be critical. And certainly, those skills will be extremely necessary. 

With only ten years left to halve global emissions, governments and businesses have to start paying closer attention to the skills that can drive energy reduction and consequently reduction in carbon emissions swiftly. 

We should prioritise developing skills that lead to quick wins. As a first step, there is a need for the development of skills that will help organisations to truly understand what energy they use within their buildings, processes and transport, and how they use it.

Organisations will require employees who possess basic energy-management skills and knowledge, and who will help them to scrutinise and understand their energy use, set up proper monitoring and measurement systems, accurately calculate emissions, and comply with mandatory reporting schemes. Also organisations need employees to eradicate energy waste, improve energy efficiency, switch to renewable energy sources or on-site renewable generation, evaluate fleet fuel efficiency and, most importantly, motivate the entire organisation in adhering to a realistic progression towards net-zero commitments. 

It will be an arduous task to develop the green-skills ecosystem that will enable businesses to recruit for the 400,000 jobs that, according to research from Development Economics, will be required in the UK’s energy sector by 2050. 

Now is the perfect time for organisations and industries to take the lead and control their own destinies of reducing energy costs and emissions. No doubt efforts are already being intensified to boost technical capabilities and skills to embrace the opportunities that decarbonisation and net-zero transition present.