Green-collar jobs, anyone?

The UK is on a green mission. No, we’re not talking about planting more trees (though those are awesome). We’re talking about overhauling the entire job market. Traditional job descriptions are being rewritten, and a whole new world of ‘green collar’ careers is emerging.

In a recent webinar spearheaded by Environmental Services & Solutions Expo (ESS) 2050 titled, ‘Green Skills: Addressing critical skills shortages in the environment sector’, expert guests discussed current trends in upskilling the UK workforce that will help address these career gaps.

Hosted by Dr. Adam Read, the webinar brought together industry experts Ben Leich (Department for Energy Security & Net Zero), Ash Zina (Department for Education), Sally Hayns (Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management), Beth Whittaker (Veolia Northern Europe Zone), Venetia Knight (Groundwork), Dr. Aris Alexoulis (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Dr. Steve Jones (Siemens).

According to the panellists, thousands of green workers will be needed in the coming decades with jobs ranging from engineers and ecologists to data whizzes and technicians, and more. In fact, thousands of good-paying green jobs are up for grabs and yet companies are struggling to find workers with the right skills.

Key sector challenges

The problem is many of us are still snoozing on the green jobs goldmine and don’t know where or how to start. Insufficient workforce, skills shortages, lack of awareness of career opportunities and lack of diversity are just some of the challenges discussed at the webinar. A problematic industry culture that prioritises a fancy science degree (PhD is a must!) or a perception that it’s all about volunteering with low (or without) pay is also a concern. The advent of automation and AI poses a new fear – that human-like robots will replace people. The list goes on.

According to a recent ManpowerGroup research, 94% of employers lack the skilled workers to achieve their environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, and only 1/8 of workers have more than one green skill.

Not everything is doom and gloom, however, as studies show 70% of employers are currently or actively planning to recruit green talent. Environmental responsibility is starting to become a key factor with 62% of jobseekers checking a company’s green reputation, especially for Gen Z (73%).

Gearing up for a green career

The good news is government, companies and universities have stepped up to the plate, with a wave of new programmes designed to close the skills gap and get the workforce ready for the green economy. On the government’s side, the following programmes have gotten a boost in terms of funding and other forms of support:

  • Apprenticeships (£60 million funding) are helping people aged 21 and up to get started or upskill in green careers.
  • T Levels are providing technical qualifications for 16- to 19-year-olds.
  • Local Skills and Improvement Plans (LSIPs) and Fund (LSIF) are engaging businesses to identify local skills needs and facilitate training.
  • Short, intensive bootcamps for upskilling and reskilling adults.
  • Higher Technical Qualifications supporting workforce upskilling and career progression.
  • Free courses for jobs scheme provides free training with over 400 courses for those seeking well-paying green careers.

All hands on deck

Some companies have introduced programmes meant for new talent and upskilling existing workers, and for developing a multi-generational workforce (including people aged 50 and above) to achieve sustainability goals.

Organisations like the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) and Groundwork Greater Manchester are supporting initiatives like Green Jobs Delivery Group and Green Jobs for Nature, as well as New to Nature Programme and Green Skills Job Fair, respectively.

CIEEM is actively campaigning to strengthen its partnership with academia, support new Level 4 vocational qualifications and facilitate skills bootcamps for young people and career changers. Groundwork Greater Manchester, meanwhile, are raising awareness about green careers among young people, highlighting diverse training routes, and removing barriers ranging from financial to accessibility.

Worth noting is a growing partnership between tech leaders like Siemens with different universities with the aim of bridging the gap between theory and practice. Programmes like Siemens’ ‘Connected Curriculum’ ensure graduates are equipped with cutting-edge skills that the industry demands. Thus far, over 100 academic staff from various universities have been trained with more than a thousand students potentially benefitting from this yearly.

Closer to home, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK has been promoting green skills for several years now. Its award-winning apprenticeship programme and other learning and development activities are geared towards improving skillsets through mentoring, peer support, networking and hands-on involvement in business processes.

The webinar imparted a powerful message that will help resolve challenges in biodiversity loss and climate change – to inspire a new generation into getting green careers through the creation of high-quality job opportunities accessible to all. This does not only provide us with purpose-driven work, but it also puts the spotlight on job security and growth, diversity and inclusivity.

Whether you’ve just finished school, are tired of your dead-end job, or own a business struggling to find the right talent – the green job world is waiting. Don’t miss out!