While Brexit continues to dominate the media, the government’s new plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 will arguably have a longer-term impact on the UK economy and workforce.
It was announced in June 2019 that the UK would become the first major economy in the world to commit to such a tough target, compared to a previous goal of at least 80% reduction from 1990 levels.
Achieving net-zero means drastically cutting emissions across industry, transport, homes, agriculture and manufacture, and if they can’t be reduced, then they must be balanced by offset schemes such as carbon capture and storage or tree planting.
Such an ambitious target obviously has huge implications, with sectors such as engineering, energy, automotive, rail, utilities and construction significantly affected. In the energy sector alone, the impact will be nothing short of a revolution – by 2030, 70% of the UK’s electricity could be generated by low carbon sources.
There will be substantial public and private investment in new infrastructure, technology and innovation, and of course, new jobs. The government estimates there are now more than 430,000 green collar jobs in the UK and this figure could rise to two million by 2030.
While there’s debate about the exact numbers, most experts agree the green workforce will continue to grow at a robust pace.
Who’s in demand?
The reason it’s difficult for industry and government to agree on the size of the workforce is that the definition of ‘green collar worker’ is nebulous, broadly speaking, it covers anyone who works in the environmental sector, or in a role in any sector which is focused on sustainability and conservation. This spans a sweep of roles from environmental engineers and scientists to green architects, anyone working in renewable energy, climate change lawyers, smart meter technicians, electric car designers, rail engineers, nuclear plant workers, and building maintenance contractors introducing energy-efficient processes.
It's clear that there will be an increased requirement for specialist skills. As always, engineers of all types will be in hot demand, especially those with experience in nuclear, rail and renewable energy. For example, the focus on wind power is increasing demand for turbine technicians, as well as experts in sea bedrock testing and blade production.
Other growth areas include electric car design and production, including battery innovation, rail expansion, recycling plants, green finance, green building maintenance, and energy-efficient construction.
Initiatives and opportunities
The government has earmarked more than £3 billion between 2015 and 2021 to fund low carbon innovation through two initiatives; the Clean Growth Strategy and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
The Clean Growth Strategy is based around slashing emissions while ensuring an affordable energy supply and growing the economy. It’s based on a solid track record; the UK economy has grown by two-thirds in the past 30 years, while carbon emissions have been reduced by more than 40%.
Clean growth is also one of four ‘grand challenges’ outlined in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The shift towards a low carbon economy is predicted to create new industries as well as transform existing ones.
The Offshore Wind Sector Deal, announced in March, is a public-private partnership which will see industry invest £250 million to boost what is already the biggest offshore wind capacity in the world. The aim is to have one-third of British electricity produced by offshore wind power by 2030, tripling jobs in the sector to 27,000. The viability has been underpinned by the falling cost of offshore wind projects.
Finally, the government launched its Green Finance Strategy in July to increase investment in sustainable projects and infrastructure.
Towards Net Zero
While we are going through a period of vast uncertainty in national politics and in terms of our relationship with the EU, neither of these factors are expected to lead to the shelving of the net-zero target. As well as the groundswell of popular support for action against climate change, it should be considered that leaving the EU will not affect our commitments under the national Climate Change Act.
As a national recruiter, Rullion works with numerous companies at the forefront of low carbon innovations. This case study provides a snapshot of how we are supporting a leading UK energy company as it works to increase low carbon and renewable energy generation.