Environment

'Severe' skills shortage threatens UK’s long-term environment goals

Green jobs are key to hitting environmental and climate goals - but the UK is facing a skills shortage that threatens to undermine progress.

The government’s 25-year environment plan announced in 2018 set out ambitious goals for tackling pollution and wildlife decline – but a new report has warned that a lack of skills suitable for green jobs threatens to undermine progress. 

The Environmental Audit Committee’s green jobs report has highlighted “skills gaps” across crucial sectors and predicts the UK won’t hit long-term goals on the environment and climate without further investment in training programmes. Areas such as land management and species conservation are most in the most dire need.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds warned that the UK workforce “does not, and is not on track to, have the skills and capacity needed to deliver the green jobs required to meet its net zero target and other environmental ambitions”.

Some of the gaps highlighted included a lack of training among farmers and landowners with regards to environmentally-friendly land management and a “severe skills shortage in ecologists” on boosting animal and plant life. 

Currently, neither the 25 year environment plan nor any plans and strategies released under the plan include an assessment of skills gaps and how these might affect environmental aims.

According to the EAC’s report, Defra is planning to create a general skills gap plan to address this issue.

To be successful, the plan “must be accompanied by an action plan to address any shortages identified”, the EAC said. 

Stakeholders who responded to the EAC’s call for evidence said that apprenticeships will be “vital” to addressing gaps in the workforce and ensuring the UK hits its long-term goals on nature and climate change. 

They pointed out that apprenticeships could also address the issue of diversity and inclusion in green sectors like renewable energy, with women currently representing just 9 per cent of engineers. 

Without addressing the issue, Engineering UK warned that “large parts of young people in the UK will be denied the opportunity to participate in, shape and drive the green recovery of this country”.

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“Our Committee has found that at present, the Government appears to underestimate the scale of the challenge not only to define a green job, but also to identify which sectors and where in the country they are needed. I hope the Government addresses these points in response to our report.

“There are huge opportunities to generate green jobs as the economy decarbonises, but this is likely to require a delivery plan across Government to enable progress at pace towards a low carbon economy.”

A spokesperson from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said:

“Over the past year, 56,000 jobs have been created and supported in the UK’s green industries. To build on this success, we are delivering various initiatives to ensure people have the right skills to gain employment in Britain’s new low carbon industries.”

The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs has been contacted for comment.

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