A report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has found that the UK is “unprepared” to upskill the number of people necessary to create a low carbon economy, with the average UK worker currently requiring nine weeks full-time training to upskill.
Since 2010, the number of adults enrolling in skills training has dwindled. Public spending for adult education and apprenticeships has also depleted, reducing by 38% in the last decade.
According to the report, this means that workers in low-skilled, low-paid jobs are most at risk of being left behind as the UK transitions to a low carbon energy market.
The study also found “significant regional disparities” in low carbon skills, with the biggest skills gap present in the north-ear of England.
Regions including the West Midlands and Merseyside were found to have the biggest skill disparity, meaning that workers in those regions would typically need more than the nine weeks training required by the average UK worker to reach the skill level necessary for green jobs.
The length of time required for the average worker per region, according to the report, is as follows:
- North-east (excluding Tyne and Wear): 13.5 weeks
- West Midlands: 13.2 weeks
- Merseyside: 13.2 weeks
- South-east (excluding London): 6.4 weeks
- Outer London: 2.3 weeks
According to the NEF’s data, workers in the north-east of the UK require over 10 weeks more full-time training than those in outer London, granting the latter region a head start in the skills transition.
Only workers in inner London were found to require no additional training on average to achieve the skill set required for green jobs.
The report stated that current government skills schemes, such as the apprenticeship levy (a 0.5% levy of large employers’ pay bill to support apprenticeship training), “haven’t done enough to address the UK’s skills deficit in general,” let alone support a just green transition.
To address the current low-carbon skills disparity, the NEF recommended a new green skills pathway which would include:
- Creating a Future Skills Scheme where any working adult made redundant or working for a company experiencing a significant drop in business activity would be offered the opportunity to be to upskill or retrain.
- Reinstating the Trades Union Congress’ Union Learning Fund (discontinued in 2021) and providing workers with access to learning.
- Devolving power over skills funding to a regional level, allowing regional leaders to determine appropriate skills strategies.
“As the US and the EU press on with a massive investment in their low carbon industries and workers, the UK is getting left behind,” said Chaitanya Kumar, head of environment and green transition and the NEF.
“The jobs of the future tend to require a higher skill level than what the average UK worker possesses – so supporting a skilled and diverse workforce should be a high priority for us. Adult education is vital but it cannot simply be left to employers to make the right decisions without a green industrial and skills strategy from our government.”