Addressing the green jobs deficit

The transition to net zero is creating a number of opportunities for the UK economy, from cheaper electricity to revitalising former industrial regions. But one element of the green economy has been noticeably slow to take off: green jobs.

Cutting carbon emissions will create a lot of work, much of it highly skilled and well-paid work. It requires expertise in new and innovative fields. We’ll need trained engineers to install heat pumps in homes, informed consultants to advise businesses on their carbon footprint, architects, engineers and scientists.

Green jobs hold a great deal of promise, especially for younger people. But so far, that promise has not been realised.

Despite being much talked about and desperately needed, there simply aren’t that many green jobs out there.

Nesta’s analysis of job adverts suggests that only around 3% of all advertised positions are for green jobs. In recent years, the number of advertised green jobs does not seem to have increased, despite all the talk of the green economy.

One thing is clear: the UK is a long way short of having the workforce required to achieve the green industrial revolution.

This is not for lack of appetite among workers; green jobs are highly sought after. Around 70% of students and recent graduates told us that it’s important to them that their career benefits the environment, and 23% would even accept a lower salary to work in a green job. There’s no doubt that the workforce is ready and willing.

Employers seem to feel the same way. Many businesses have introduced ambitious net zero plans over the last few years, but more than two in three have found roles requiring green skills hard to fill, particularly where STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths – skills are involved.

This leaves us with a conundrum: workers and employers both want more green opportunities, so where are the jobs?

Our research suggests that there are two key barriers in the way. One is skills – people don’t seem to be acquiring the skills they need to do these desirable jobs. The other is awareness – people simply don’t know what green jobs are available or how to plan a career to secure one.

So what can be done to overcome the green jobs deficit?

Tackling the awareness gap shouldn’t be complicated. We need to help people understand what green jobs really look like. It may be obvious that building wind turbines or designing electric vehicles is good for the environment, but we also need to convey the environmental value of building more efficient homes, or planning cycling infrastructure, or farming in a more sustainable way. There are many more opportunities to work in the green economy than people realise.

Green jobs are not just for city-dwelling university graduates either – there is a wealth of different opportunities. Whether it’s introducing a ‘green job’ badge to flag key positions, or improving careers advice in schools, more needs to be done to clarify and promote green jobs.

Addressing the green skills gap is a little trickier. To start, colleges and universities need to make sure these skills are more fully reflected in their courses. We also need many more specialised training courses for specific green skills. Green bootcamps – modelled on IT conversion courses – could be offered to help workers retrain in one year or less. Government could also offer grants or make it easier to access loans to retrain. Upskilling the UK’s workforce won’t happen overnight, but with the right attention and investment, it can be done.

Wherever we start, it’s time to take action to ensure that green jobs are available, accessible and attractive to the UK workforce.

We’re dealing with some fairly big stakes here. Green jobs aren’t just key to the UK’s economic future, they’re also fundamental in helping to tackle climate change and preserve the planet for future generations.

Revolutions don’t occur in a vacuum; they’re driven by people. If we want to see a true green industrial revolution – one that transforms the economy, the environment, and the lives of everyday people – we have to take the workforce with us.


Andrew Sissons

Andrew Sissons

Andrew Sissons

Deputy Director, sustainable future mission

Andrew is deputy director on Nesta's mission to create a sustainable future, which focuses on decarbonisation and economic recovery.

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