Green Skills: Are Employers and Policymakers Speaking the Same Language?

Green Skills: Are Employers and Policymakers Speaking the Same Language?

Researchers from the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) have been asking existing employers what skills they feel will be required for their business to ‘go green’.

Sarah Strachan, Alison Greig

The economic opportunities offered by ‘green growth’ are increasingly being championed by governments, NGOs and lobby groups. At a policy level, much of the focus has been on the creation of new ‘green jobs’, especially through the growth of renewable energy and clean technologies. For example, one of the priorities for the newly designated Department for Energy, Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), is to increase the recognition of the ways in which the low-carbon transition can create well-paid jobs across the regions.

However, this transition will not be achieved without also ‘greening’ our existing businesses.

COVID-19 has been recognised as both a disruptor and a catalyst for a green transition and to navigate these complex and uncertain shifts in the economy and society it is critical that policymakers have access to accurate and detailed labour market information. Since the pandemic, many reports have been published on both ‘green skills’ and ‘green jobs’ but there still seems to be a paucity of data on how green skills are defined, what upskilling and reskilling will be required and exactly who will be responsible for ensuring this happens. Here we summarise the results of some of our research just published in Local Economy: The Journal of the Local Economy Policy Unit and share our insights from employers for policymakers:

Be clear if you are referring to green jobs or green skills

Research literature and policy documents often use descriptors such as green jobs and green skills interchangeably. If the UK is going to properly develop, implement and evaluate policies to deliver the green skills it needs to hit net zero, we believe it is vitally important to define and enumerate green jobs, and to build a green skills taxonomy. In the UK, the Office for National Statistics is working on defining green jobs but, in the meantime, for the purposes of our research we used international definitions (UN SEEA and ILO). In the absence of a UK-specific skills taxonomy, acknowledged as one of the current priorities of the Unit for Future Skills, we define green skills as referring to all the knowledges, skills, competencies and attributes required in the workforce to support a low-carbon transition to a cleaner, fairer economy and society or more colloquially ‘going green’. Employers we spoke to often conflated skills and jobs and in our research we found that asking the following set of questions was useful in uncovering what they feel is needed for their business to transition. We asked employers what/how their employees need to:

  • Know?
  • Do?
  • Be like?
  • Think?

Recognise employers’ shift towards values and attitudes-based skills

Employers in our study reported that the key skills needs at all levels (entry, management and senior) were likely to be ‘soft’ transferable skills rather than ‘hard’ technical skills. These generic green skills are required by each industry sector for every occupation, regardless of its skill level, as they enhance the core values and skills needed to achieve an inclusive transition. This organisational turn from knowledge-based skills towards values and attitudes-based skills means the technical and vocational education sector needs to reflect this through their learning and teaching provision.

Move beyond the perspective of new green jobs

If 80 percent of the people who will be employed in 2030 are already in the workforce, then existing employers and employees are of critical importance to a green and just transition. Our research suggests that the current focus on green jobs, particularly new green jobs, not only grossly underestimates the skills needed to achieve an inclusive transition but it also has the potential to disenfranchise employers who are leading the transition across all sectors. We contend that placing an emphasis on skills rather than jobs is more useful in understanding the dynamics of the transition taking place and the challenges and opportunities this presents.

When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible

Employers recognise that developing green skills should be the responsibility of multiple stakeholders – individuals, employers, education and training providers and government – in the context of lifelong learning. But they perceive that there is a general trend towards training becoming the responsibility of employers, when employer-provided training is reported to have declined over time. Our research suggests that there is an opportunity for local policymakers to work with partners to facilitate inter-organisational networks, to address some of these challenges, and to connect local skills demand with education and training.

We hope that our research provides evidence for policymakers that a green recovery, post-COVID, requires more than policies to drive low carbon economic activity. In particular it needs investment in the workforce and a whole ecosystem approach to defining, promoting and embedding generic green skills.

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To find a copy of the Green Skills Report visit: