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Building a green future one apprenticeship at a time

The theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week (NAW2021) is ‘Build the Future’. But should it have been named ‘Build the Green Future'?

Young people (aged 18-24) are among those that care most about climate change, and want to do something about it. In a recent survey with prospective apprentices registered with Get My First Job - an innovative tool connecting employers with young talent - almost half of the participants told us they thought climate change was extremely serious. Over a third told us they’d like to work for an employer that is doing something positive for the future of our planet.

Meanwhile, the UK government wants to use NAW2021 to highlight how communities, local businesses and regional economies can benefit from apprenticeships. The recently published Skills for Jobs white paper also outlines how apprenticeships will help the government to ‘revolutionise post-16 education, reshape the training landscape and help the nation build back better’.

But their role in delivering a green, net-zero future is not even mentioned in these plans. It would be a missed opportunity if we didn’t harness the passion young apprentices have for the environment in the drive for 2 million green jobs by 2030.

Turning a passion for climate action into a job opportunity

Is anything stopping young jobseekers from finding green jobs? The preliminary findings from our collaboration with Get My First Job indicate they often don’t know or aren’t sure about the green jobs they’d like to do. Improving how we advertise apprenticeships might help in this respect.

At Nesta, we’re currently experimenting with different types of green job adverts to understand how they affect job-seeking behaviour through Get My First Job. For example, does including an employer's environmental strategy in an engineering apprenticeship advert boost applicant numbers? How can we shift recruitment bias to achieve more diversity and social mobility?

Businesses can help this effort by sharing what they’re doing to fight climate change. We know many employers have an environmentally friendly, sustainable recovery at the heart of their business plans. They need to be showcasing this; recruiters believe that businesses that aren’t able to show off their environmental credentials will suffer in finding sought after talent.

There’s plenty of opportunity, but is it attractive?

Becoming a green apprentice needs to be a sought after experience, especially when there’s so much opportunity. The LGA estimates that, by 2050, 1.18 million people will be employed in ‘green jobs’ requiring vast numbers of NVQ-qualified engineers, designers, installers, researchers and technicians.

Many of these new roles will emerge in sectors like green transport and battery production. Damian Pearce, the UKBIC’s (UK Battery Industrialisation Centre) HR director, believes that apprenticeships in organisations at the early stages of the green industrial revolution will offer highly attractive prospects and a smart career move. But are we doing enough to get this message across?

Gillian Keegan, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, believes that many people still hold an old-fashioned stereotype about what apprenticeships are. In the UK, we undervalue technical qualifications and treat the training offered to the half of the population that doesn’t go to university as an afterthought. More work needs to be done to dispel the myth that it just means ‘being good with your hands’. When, in fact, apprenticeships are ideal routes into fast-moving sectors like tech. The green sector is equally fast moving and innovative.

A lot can be learned from fast-growing startups like Multiverse, giving young people a highly attractive alternative to university. The platform matches jobseekers with short tech apprenticeships and on-the-job training. Like our research shows, this is essential in breaking the barriers to developing skills that meet the needs of a constantly evolving labour market.

The green apprenticeship opportunity

The fourth industrial revolution inspired huge efforts towards digital skills frameworks, programmes and interventions. Why can’t the same happen for the green revolution?

Perhaps there are learnings from digitalisation which can be applied to developing green skills and jobs.

The Government’s efforts to incentivise employers to hire apprentices, like Kickstart, have the potential to create a sea of opportunity for apprentices in the green economy. As we emerge from lockdown, these programmes can’t afford further hiccups by being too cumbersome or slow.

The scale of the unemployment crisis is staggering; millions are jobless with young people hit hardest. It's daunting but, as our preliminary findings show, they are eager to play a role in building the UK’s green future. We need to hit the ground running, and employers have said they are ready. This is a real opportunity to build a sustainable recovery driven forward by green apprentices.


Juan Casasbuenas

Juan was a Curriculum and Content Manager supporting the Future of Work team. Before joining Nesta, Juan was a training coordinator in the science communication sector, working in scie…

Olivia Chapman

Olivia Chapman

Olivia Chapman

Senior Programme Manager, Future of Work

Olivia was a senior programme manager at Nesta.

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