Hundreds of thousands of workers will be needed to meet the UK’s goal of net zero by 2050, according to new research from National Grid.
There will be 400,000 job opportunities provided by the transition, 100,000 of which will be in the north of England. Opportunities for skilled tradespeople, engineers and other specialists “across every region of the country” will be needed, the company has said.
However, there are a number of challenges that could hamper recruitment in the sector. The report identifies four key potential problems; a looming retirement crunch, competition from other sectors, too few young people gaining STEM qualifications and an ongoing lack of women in the sector.
National Grid hopes that climate change may act as a motivator for unlocking new talent, based on a recent YouGov poll. It found that increasingly people are looking for professions where they can make a positive environmental impact, with 83% of women keen to play a role in tackling climate change and 73% of men.
The poll also found that more than half of adults are specifically looking to work for companies working to deliver net zero.
National Grid's report, ‘Building the Net Zero Energy Workforce’, was written together with Development Economics and uses the Committee on Climate Change's advice on the UK’s transition to carbon neutrality as a basis.
Nicola Shaw, the executive director of National Grid, said that whilst a major milestone was reached in 2019 as zero carbon electricity outstripped fossil fuels, "there’s still a long way to go".
"As the pathway to net zero becomes clearer, so must our understanding of the jobs and skills we need to succeed.
“Our research shows that to deliver net zero, the energy industry needs to recruit hundreds of thousands of people over the next thirty years – and that really is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the wider impact of net zero across other industries.
"The time is now for the sector to rise to the challenge and overcome the long-standing issues we face in recruiting a diverse workforce with the right skills to deliver on the UK’s ambitions," Shaw continued.
According to the report, over the next decade 117,000 roles will need to be filled, 152,000 between 2031 and 2040 and 131,000 in the final decade to 2050.
Of these, 260,000 will be new roles, created by the need to build and upgrade low carbon infrastructure. The remaining 140,000 will be replacements for those leaving the workforce.
Currently around 144,000 people are employed in the energy sector, but 20% of the current workforce is set to retire by 2030. Only 12% of energy sector workers are female, and as much as 75% don’t return to work in the sector following maternity leave or career breaks. Both these areas will need to be improved if the sector is to fill demand.
Furthermore, there needs to be more people – and particularly women – coming through STEM qualifications, the report outlined.
David Wright, chief engineer at National Grid, said: “To build a skilled, diverse and motivated net zero energy workforce that will tackle the global climate crisis, we’ve got to look at every stage of the pipeline. We must harness women’s motivation and do more to attract them into a sector they’ve historically turned away from.
“We must help the existing workforce to reskill, while bringing new talent into the sector by showing the positive impact we can make in fighting climate change. At the same time, we must inspire the next generation to pursue STEM subjects at school and beyond, tapping into the passion we’re seeing in the school climate strikes.”
National Grid said that it is investing £7.5 million annually into training, and runs over 800 courses at its facility at Eakring, near Nottingham.
As the UK transitions to a greener economy, the potential for job creation appears to be at the forefront of much of the debate. In the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) recent oral questions session, the topic took centre stage and minsters from around the country work to ensure their constituencies benefit from the transition.
Figures released recently from the Office for National Statistics showed employment dropped in the solar sector from 9,000 full time employees in 2015 to just 6,600 in 2018.
However, a study published last week from Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) predicted that solar is to be the top global energy employer by 2050.