Labour Research December 2021


Developing green skills

Unions say the government must do much more to work with them on skills if it is to reach its target of two million green jobs by 2030.

The government claims its “landmark” Net Zero Strategy, launched shortly before the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last month, will “create and support hundreds of thousands of new high skilled, high wage green jobs” in every part of the UK.

It promises to support workers “to retrain and upskill and build low carbon industries” and to reform the skills system so “training providers, employers and learners are incentivised and equipped to play their part in delivering the transition to net zero”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak claims skills spending will increase over the current Parliament by £3.8 billion — a 42% rise.

But, said TUC co-lead on climate and industrial policy Mika Minio-Paluello: “The government is doing too little, too slowly and not resourcing appropriately. It’s waiting for business to lead.”

The Green Jobs Taskforce

The government-convened Green Jobs Taskforce brought together 17 industry, trade union and skills sector representatives, including TUC deputy general secretary Paul Nowak and Prospect specialists’ union senior deputy general secretary Sue Ferns.

Its July 2021 report sets out that in order “to fully capitalise on the significant economic opportunity presented by net zero, the UK needs a comprehensive and ambitious plan … to create quality green jobs and drive investment in skills”.

The TUC described the government’s net-zero strategy as “a huge let down” and demanded it implement the taskforce’s 15 recommendations in full.

These include:

• scaling up investment in green recovery programmes and rapid job creation;

• a new national body to ensure the climate transition delivers on jobs and leaves no worker behind, through monitoring, driving and reporting on the creation of, and transition to, quality green jobs and skills; and

• using government levers such as regulation, licensing, financing and procurement, promotion of framework agreements, sectoral bargaining, industry-pay agreements, and wider employment and health and safety law.

“The government’s net zero strategy includes the language from the taskforce, but without its concrete demands,” TUC co-lead on climate and industrial policy Mika Minio-Paluello told Labour Research.

“Where there are concrete demands, it has gone for the lowest hanging fruit with the least impact. It has made some weak and woolly commitments to possibly doing more”.

Nevertheless, she says it allows space for TUC and union demands.

“The Net Zero Strategy outlines direction and ideas — for example it includes £620 million for an electric vehicle charging network, but there is no detail of what this will look like.

“The government has committed to a new national committee to drive forward the climate transition, but it’s membership and role is not clear. It could be a Just Transition Commission-type body the TUC is demanding, with resources, power and union engagement on green skills and jobs.”

Climate jobs — building a workforce for the climate emergency, a new publication from the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group, calls for a National Climate Service to “organise, plan, train workers and deliver the jobs so urgently needed”.

Inadequate plans for training and skills

An emergency plan on green jobs for young people, a February 2021 report by environmental group Friends of the Earth and the Transition Economics green consultancy, highlights significant skills gaps and shortages in sectors essential for delivering net zero climate goals. These threaten to derail efforts to decarbonise buildings, transport and energy.

It provides industry-by-industry evidence of skills gaps, where an existing workforce needs additional training, and skills shortages, where employers struggle to fill vacancies because not enough people looking for jobs have the required skills.

For example, reaching zero heating emissions, including the installation of heat pumps, will require a skilled workforce of nearly 70,000 people that currently doesn’t exist.

A mass roll-out of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, and the electrification of rail and water transport, will require a significant number of electricians. But the Federation of Master Builders says electricians are among the top six occupations in short supply.

And one survey found 69% of electricians felt they didn’t have the necessary skills and knowledge to install EV-charging equipment confidently.

Minio-Paluello says many of the professions we need to transition to net zero require multi-year training programmes — and we need hundreds of thousands of skilled workers to properly deliver enormous infrastructure projects like retrofitting homes.

“The government has set out targets to reduce emissions, but not what needs to be done to meet those targets,” she told Labour Research.

“It requires state planning and investment in skills development. It can’t just wait for the market.”

“A key issue has been the lack of funding available to meet net zero targets,” Graham Petersen, a member of the Greener Jobs Alliance (GJA), said. “The further education sector plays a vital part in delivering skills but is completely underfunded.”

Petersen added that a “massive problem” is the gap between the demand for, and supply of, skills. “But there is no planning by government, sectors or major employers to meet future skills demands. The Green Jobs Taskforce [see box] says the government has no clear idea of what a green job is, or a skills framework to address this. There is just a lot of wishful thinking.”

The UCU university and college union’s climate and sustainability officer Meg Baker says the government’s approach “isn’t entirely wrong”.

“There are some good bits in the Green Jobs Taskforce and its recommendations,” she said. “It’s good to see the government putting in time, energy and funding into a green jobs transition and acknowledging the role of, and listening to, unions about upskilling the current workforce to transition to net zero.”

But she says the biggest problem is the focus on the private sector, and the expectation that it will choose to invest, while further education (FE) has been “massively stretched and seen so many cuts”.

“There is not enough investment in the external expertise needed to upskill staff and in turn upskill students,” she added.

The UCU is calling for major new investment in FE to close a rapidly widening skills gap across the low carbon sectors. This includes £500 million of new money allocated to colleges over the current parliament, and £100 million to establish a new network of national centres of excellence in low carbon skills at FE colleges, each focusing on different aspects of the low carbon skills gap.

The funding should be ringfenced for colleges, rather than the private sector, and centres should be geographically spread to help with the “levelling-up” agenda, based on regional hubs that could be linked to existing regional projects.

In October 2021, the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) of MPs warned that “inconsistent government policy on green jobs and a knowledge gap in necessary skills are resulting in missed opportunities”.

And while the government’s net zero strategy set out green jobs and skills ambitions, the MPs called for “a detailed, actionable delivery plan”.

Meanwhile, employment schemes such as Kickstart and Restart don’t embed sustainability. Kickstart provides funding to employers to create jobs for 16- to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit (UC) and at risk of long-term unemployment. Restart gives UC claimants who have been out of work for at least 12 months “enhanced support” to find jobs in their local area. But just one per cent of Kickstart placements have been in green sectors, the committee reported.

Friends of the Earth and Transition Economics found 161 existing apprenticeship standards in England, out of a total of 571, approved for delivery by December 2020, that can support decarbonisation. But many apprenticeship standards do not even exist yet, such as whole-house retrofits. And others, such as heat-pump installers, need important updates and/or numbers to be expanded significantly.

The Place-based Climate Action Network, which seeks to translate climate policy into “action on the ground”, has developed a Just Transition Jobs Tracker which estimates how employment will be affected by the transition to a green economy.

According to the tracker, one in five jobs in the UK — some 6.3 million workers — will require skills which may experience demand growth (approximately 10% of UK jobs) or reduction (approximately 10% of UK jobs) as a result of the transition to net zero.

But “UK skills policy has failed to grapple with the magnitude of this challenge”, Friends of the Earth and Transition Economics reported. For instance, the January 2021 Skills for Jobs White Paper on reforms to post-16 technical education and training “makes no reference whatsoever to climate change or decarbonisation. The government must address barriers to retraining and upskilling by providing rights to paid time off to train and the right to take training sabbaticals, so no worker is behind”, said Minio-Palluelo.

“The risk of retraining shouldn’t fall on workers, especially when we’ve seen inconsistent government policy in areas like solar, where companies and workers invested in retraining only to have government financial support withdrawn”.

Holistic approach required

Baker argues the government also needs to take a more holistic approach. “Its approach is very skills and workplace focused, but people also need underlying knowledge and understanding to underpin those practical skills and create the active citizens we need for a societal shift,” she said.

And while the Green Jobs Taskforce makes clear that moving to net zero will affect all jobs and industry sectors, that hasn’t filtered down to government policy.

“It’s heavily focused on STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] subjects while we need a diverse response from across sectors including the arts and humanities,” she added. “Sustainability needs to be embedded beyond STEM throughout learning.”

The UCU is also calling on the government to ensure the education estate is fit for purpose for the transition to net zero, “retrofitting” the curriculum as well as buildings.

“Education buildings are learning laboratories and the whole of the education sector needs to be role modelling what public buildings should be like in order to reach net zero targets,” Baker said. “The subliminal or hidden curriculum demonstrates the culture of the organisation.”

Two key UCU campaigns, in alliance with student organisations, back up its demands. Decarbonise and Decolonise for 2030 recognises that climate change is a social justice issue, and that the consequences of the climate crisis are not distributed equally.

It sets out the importance of “understanding the history of colonialism, imperialism and Western high-carbon economic systems” that have driven us to the climate emergency.

The second is the Green New Deal bargaining and negotiating framework, which includes demanding institutions declare a climate emergency, agree concrete time-limited action plans on embedding meaningful environmental policies and “climate proof their curriculums”.

Together with Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK), the union is also calling on teachers and educators, teacher trainers and educator trainers to sign up to the educators’ pledge for COP26 committing to take climate action.

The union is supporting members through workshops on climate education and decarbonising and decolonising, Green New Deal training for green reps and an online climate learning resource for educators.

Greener Jobs Alliance Campaign

The GJA is building union backing for a legal framework for climate and just transition at work, including a requirement for large employers to carry out a net zero skills audit (see box).

Framework for climate and just transition

The union-backed Greener Jobs Alliance has published an outline legal framework for climate and just transition at work.

This makes clear that a voluntary approach is not working and proposes a Climate and Just Transition at Work Bill that would place a duty on employers to publish a climate and environment policy. It must include greenhouse gas emissions reduction measures, as well as vocational education and training policies, to meet the needs of the current and future workforce.

It would provide rights for workers, including a right to information — or right to know — about the environmental and climate change impacts of their work, workplace activities, and production outputs. There would be a right to participate in workplace decision-making where it may have environmental or climate change impacts.

Specific duties on employers would include a skills audit within the climate and environment policy, matching climate and environmental action with the vocational education and training needed to deliver it.

The policy must also include “sector relevant targets” for driving up the diversity of the workforce.

The Green Skills Taskforce found women currently account for a small share of the workforce in areas where it believes there are or will be more green jobs. Meanwhile, Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers make up just 5% of the offshore wind sector workforce, for example.

Petersen said: “Employers should be legally required to recognise and engage with unions, with union learning reps at workplace, enterprise and regional level involved in skills audits, looking at the impact of moving to net zero on the workforce and, in the longer term, planning what needs to happen in the sector as a whole and regionally. Green jobs and green skills should be a priority issue and properly resourced.” He points to pockets of limited progress. London has a green recovery board which discusses green skills, but this is not strategic, is under-resourced and has very little trade union involvement.

South London’s Wandsworth council has agreed Petersen as a union representative on its employment skills taskforce and he also sits on a green skills taskforce covering five councils in south west London.

The TUC has some recognition and resources in Yorkshire and the Humber. But he argues there should be “forums set up in every local and regional authority bringing together employers, unions and education providers to assess the demand for skills and decide how they will deliver training programmes”.

Minio-Paluello says high carbon industries like steel and ceramics need government funding to decarbonise. And this funding should be linked to a requirement for just transition agreements with the workforce to shape decarbonisation.

“We need more support for retooling,” she added. “Workers and their unions in steel plants in south Wales, in the automotive industry in the Midlands, and in aerospace manufacturing near Glasgow have all developed workers’ plans to decarbonise. The government needs to put money on the table for employers to follow the lead of workers in delivering the climate transition.”

As well as media interventions telling these stories, the TUC is building a broad base beyond the union movement, including support from environmental groups and business groups, to push forward its demands.

Friends of the Earth/Transition Economics, An emergency plan on green jobs for young people (

Green Jobs Taskforce, Green Jobs Taskforce report (

Greener Jobs Alliance, Outline legal framework for Climate and Just Transition at Work (

UCU, Decarbonise & decolonise 2030 (

UCU, Green new deal (