Research: Qualifying for the race to net zero

2021-07-08T14:25:02+00:00 July 5th, 2021|Getting to zero, Onward, Research|

This morning Onward publishes its latest research report, Qualifying for the race to net zero, which assesses the labour market challenge of the transition to net zero emissions and puts forward a nine-point plan to plug the green skills gap in the UK.

Read the research

Radical policies will be required to retrain or upskill millions of workers in both high-tech STEM roles and low- and medium-skilled technical qualifications to meet the challenge of net zero. But if ministers take action quickly, they can meet the Prime Minister’s pledge to deliver a “Green Industrial Revolution” that disproportionately boosts wages in the North of England. 

Our new report, Qualifying for the Race to Net Zero, includes a comprehensive analysis of the current skill and wage levels of incumbent carbon intensive industries and compares them to that of low carbon and renewable sectors. It finds that: 

  • In total, an estimated 3.2 million workers in the UK will need to increase their skill level or retrain in a new qualification to meet the Government’s commitment to decarbonise the economy by 2050. 
  • Some sectors are more heavily affected than others. Almost 1 in 3 workers in construction (30%) will need upskilling along with over 1 in 4 workers in transport and storage (26%).
  • The average skill requirement of a job in a carbon-intensive industry is 46% lower than the average net zero job, and net zero workers have qualification levels that are on average 24% higher than carbon-intensive workers.

However, the research also identifies the considerable opportunity if ministers can seize them. Net zero jobs have a median annual gross income of £37,190 for full-time employees, 18% higher than the national average and 30% higher than jobs in current carbon-intensive industries. This means that for every £1 earnt in a carbon intensive industry, a worker in a net zero transition industry would earn £1.30. Net zero industries also have a smaller gender pay gap than the national average, with male salaries 17% higher than females, compared to 21% nationwide.

Some parts of the country are more exposed to this shift than others. The regions which stand to disproportionately benefit from net zero are the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. These regions make up 24.2% and 18.2% of areas in the top quintile of areas where there is high potential for industrial emissions abatement and a higher average skill level within the workforce. 

The report puts forward a series of recommendations for the Government to tackle the skills challenge, including: 

  1. Introduce a Green Human Capital Tax Credit to encourage employers to invest in the skills of their employees.
  2. Develop new Apprenticeship Standards, T Levels and Degree Apprenticeships to provide net-zero industries with the opportunity to grow their workforces.
  3. Fund 2,800 net zero aligned PhDs in order to bolster domestic engineering expertise. 
  4. Review the free qualifications offered within the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, to ensure the key qualifications required for buildings retrofit are included to help realise the estimated 900,000 – 1.3 million new jobs that will be required in this space by 2030.
  5. Establish a number of prestigious Net Zero Academies to address the low skills penetration in regions which also suffer from a high proportion of jobs in carbon-intensive industries.

Ted Christie-Miller, report co-author, said:

“At present the UK workforce is woefully prepared for the transition to net zero emissions. If we want people to take advantage of the opportunities of a green economy, and the well-paid green collar jobs it will provide, urgent action is needed to upskill and train people up and down the country”

“This report provides a blueprint for the Government to give businesses the tools to invest in their own workforce and workers the opportunities to improve their skills to grasp the full benefits of the net zero transition. There is no time to waste”

Dame Caroline Spelman, Co-chair of the Getting to Zero commission:

“It is crucial we equip our workforce with the skills to achieve Net Zero by 2050, to support social justice as well as to pursue decarbonisation in the UK.”

Rt Hon Caroline Flint, Co-chair of the Getting to Zero commission:

“As Britain emerges from the economic trauma of this pandemic there is not a moment to waste. Onward had laid out in stark detail how ill prepared the British workforce is to meet the net zero skills challenge. Government must step up and skill up Britain to create a green recovery with better paid, secure jobs.”

Sue Ferns, Prospect Union, member of the Green Jobs Taskforce:

“This report sets out the scale and urgency of the Labour market challenge to ensure a successful and fair transition to net zero across all parts of the UK. It should focus political minds on the need for action now.”

Gareth Davies MP, Member of Parliament for Grantham and Member of the Levelling Up Taskforce:

“We face a titanic challenge to upskill the UK workforce for the net zero transition. As this report by Onward shows, we desperately need to increase the level of technical expertise across the country if we are to realise our emissions targets. If we get this right, the green transition can also be a tool for upward social mobility, as green jobs are better paid and often more resilient than other careers. “

“One such way to build this skills base is by re-evaluating the role of further education colleges. I welcome Onward’s recommendation to transform a suite of further education colleges into net zero academies”

Sam Hall, Director of Conservative Environment Network:

“Net zero will create hundreds of thousands of green jobs and change the nature of many more existing jobs. To deliver this, we’ll need a suite of new skills policies and incentives for the private sector to train up their workforce. Onward’s compelling recommendations would give our labour market the skills required for the UK to thrive in the net zero economy.”

Siobhan Baillie MP, Member of Parliament for Stroud:

“We must skill our young people for the challenges of net zero and quickly. As a passionate champion of further and technical education, I believe we need to see rapid investment in the sector to ensure the UK can meet the challenges it has set itself.

“We already have a big STEM skills gap, particularly among girls and women, yet more than half of net zero occupations will rely on these skills. We have no time to lose.

“This Onward report provides practical and innovative solutions for levelling up our education system to equip young people with the technical skills they’ll need to thrive in the 21st century economy.”

Steering Group

  1. Dame Caroline Spelman, Former Environment Secretary (Co-Chair)
  2. Rt Hon Caroline Flint, Former Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary (Co-Chair)
  3. Ruth Edwards MP
  4. Sam Hall, Conservative Environment Network
  5. Richard Howard, Aurora Energy Research
  6. Ben Caldecott, The Smith School Oxford 
  7. Guy Newey, Energy Systems Catapult
  8. Melanie Onn, Renewable UK
  9. Daniel Hale, Purpose
  10. Joss Garman, European Climate Foundation
  11. Michelle You, LocalGlobe & Co-founder of SongKick
  12. Sue Ferns, Prospect Union
  13. Steve Waygood, Aviva 
  14. Will Tanner, Onward


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