The UK government has promised to invest £4 billion into a ‘green industrial revolution’, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the environmental sector. But in a tough labour market, what are these roles likely to be and how will organisations source talent?
Earlier this month, on Sunday 5 June, it was World Environment Day – a timely reminder of the work that needs to be done to reduce carbon emissions and protect the planet.
The UK government has its own ambitious plans for creating thousands of employment opportunities in a bid to hit ‘net zero’ by 2050.
When prime minister Boris Johnson announced its “green industrial revolution” in 2020, the promise was an investment of £4 billion and the creation of 250,000 new “green jobs” in areas such as wind farms, sustainable construction and electric car development.
But in the intervening two years, there has not been much in the way of further detail as to exactly what these roles will be, and how organisations will source staff for them in such a tight labour market.
Lack of clarity
A report by the Environmental Audit Committee last year raised these concerns, claiming there was a lack of clarity around what these jobs would actually entail and the skills required for them.
The TUC has also questioned the feasibility of these jobs coming to fruition. An analysis by the union body last year found that 80,000 jobs could be lost in rubber and plastics, 30,000 jobs in iron and steel, 41,000 in glass and ceramics, 63,200 in chemicals, 18,000 in textiles and 15,500 in paper, pulp and printing due to a lack of infrastructure here in the UK.
Last month saw the first meeting of the UK’s Green Jobs Delivery Group, composed of representatives from business, trade unions and academia.
The group wants to boost initiatives such as adult skills training in green skills, partnerships with employers for green apprenticeship opportunities, and green skills bootcamps where people can build skills and have an interview with companies offering roles in areas such as solar power installation.
Harco Leertouwer, MD for Europe at search and advisory firm Acre, sees the lack of clarity on the policy side as an opportunity for leaders to shape their own approach and the teams that will deliver it.
“When we go out to clients, we ask them to pitch the role to us,” he says. “There is so much demand for candidates that they can be selective and we want to place them with the right opportunity.”
Demand for green skills
At the same time, companies and individuals are taking it upon themselves to proactively build these skills as the market evolves.
Anand Chopra-McGowan, general manager for the UK at online course provider Emeritus, says the company has seen “tremendous demand” for green skills. The company offers private online courses in conjunction with major universities, and interest in sustainability topics among senior leaders is growing fast, he explains.
“Sustainability and the circular economy is one of the fastest growing areas,” he says. “There are broadly two buckets of people joining these courses: mid-career professionals who have been brought into a role focused on sustainability and also those in adjacent fields such as consultants where they’re advising on something related to sustainability goals.”
Emeritus has just launched a course with Imperial College London focusing on sustainability leadership. Topics include how organisations can innovate their business models around climate change; an overview of up-to-date climate science; and the engineering and digital solutions that could support changes and meet carbon reduction goals.
Chopra-McGowan believes courses such as these can add substance to a spike in sustainability roles in the recruitment market. “Some of these roles being advertised are more cosmetic than others, but many are reporting to the CEO directly, so there’s a high expression of intent,” he adds.
“Many environmentally focused companies we work with are now hiring across the board with positions available from graduate to senior management level,” says Derek MacFeate, managing partner of executive search firm MM Search.
“Six months from COP26, there is now a fundamental understanding that climate change is an issue that everyone must engage with if the carbon emission targets are to be met. As a result, more companies than ever are making significant changes to their policies and strategies to support the net-zero goal and create more sustainable ways of working.”
With candidates in high demand, however, the company is reaching out to candidates who are considering a move into sustainability as well as those who are already working in the sector.
“From ESG coordinators to energy managers and sustainability consultants, we foresee this area being a key focus for the recruitment world as businesses seek to align their working practices with the needs of the planet,” he adds.
Leertouwer at Acre adds that sourcing talent in this area can be challenging for organisations because “nobody knows what these roles will look like in five years’ time”.
“Sustainability targets are often highly ambitious and often seem overwhelming, but building green skills within an organisation is a critical first step in building a manageable strategy to reach these goals.” – Tony Prevost, Skillsoft
“We see chief financial officers working more closely with sustainability officers, then we see links between sustainability, innovation and digitisation – these roles expect a level of insight into every aspect of the business,” he says.
Current areas of focus for Acre include specialist consultancy roles in renewable energy, roles specialising in circularity in industries such as packaging, and sustainable finance as investment companies beef up their environmental credentials – a combination of sustainability roles in ‘traditional’ companies and jobs in environmentally-focused businesses such as solar specialists.
The approach is the same, however. “We start with understanding the problem the company faces, the challenge the company is trying to solve. Often they think they’re looking for candidate A but often it’s something different,” he adds.
Growth in interest
With the need to build skills that will adapt as the market evolves, many organisations are choosing to offer bites of green learning employees can add as they go.
Learning software provider Skillsoft recently found a 73% increase in organisations accessing green content on its platforms, and a 237% in learners. Employees clearly show an interest in sustainability topics, too; Skillsoft’s data showed that there has been a 137% increase in searches for green content, and 131% increase in the total number of learning hours spent on this.
“Sustainability targets such as net zero are often highly ambitious, requiring substantial financial investment and significant changes to business operations. They can often seem overwhelming,” says Tony Prevost, Skillsoft’s EMEA HR director. “However, building green skills within an organisation is a critical first step in building a manageable strategy to reach these goals.”
He believes employers need to prioritise and invest in green skills programmes alongside their regular learning and development initiatives.
“At the leadership level, these should include courses in resource-efficient business management, how to weigh the risks of implementing new sustainability strategies and how to build a strategic commitment to sustainability. Across the organisation, this should include training in any new green technologies that are brought in,” he adds.
Moving forward, workers will need to acquire new skills to fulfil new roles or to adapt to changes to existing ones. Prevost says this will only contribute to the existing skills gap, but there is good news. “The rapid pace of digital transformation over the last few years has meant that most jobs are constantly evolving to require new skills,” he argues.
“Few workers will have all the skills and knowledge they will need across their careers when they enter the workforce. The key to filling these ever-evolving gaps is for organisations to develop a culture of lifelong learning, where training is prioritised throughout their employees’ careers.”
Organisations should also ensure learning around the environment and sustainability are embedded into employees’ daily working lives. “Combining this with ongoing training in power skills such as time management and adaptability will create a workforce that is flexible and ready to adapt to new green-related roles,” Prevost adds.