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BY: MARK MILLER

The UK government has made promises to build towards a net zero UK by 2050, but it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a green skills shortage that will undermine both UK and global ambitions to reach these targets.

“The demand for analysts, strategists and others knowledgeable about environmental, social and governance issues has never been higher — far more than the current supply of qualified humans. And therein lies a challenge to the growth of sustainability and climate solutions.” Joel Makowar, Chairman, Greenbiz Group 19th July 2021

With the serious political and economic drive towards decarbonisation, biodiversity, anti-pollution and resource management, there is now a momentum towards transition that will change the  business landscape. The rate at which that change is now occurring and the demands for skills to facilitate it is creating a concerning and growing skills gap. Those newsfeeds that report new green legislation, more aggressive carbon reduction targets and changes to the way that business conducts itself also report that a skilled workforce, to allow the changes to happen, does not yet exist. So  there is an opportunity and real potential for a green jobs bonanza that presents as a growth area, along with technology, policy and financial innovations.

However, transitioning skills and developing people takes planning, time and thought. It is not the same as releasing a new report or changing reduction targets. The recent – July 2021 – National  Audit Office (NAO) report (Local government and net zero in England, by the Comptroller and Auditor General, SESSION 2021-22 16 JULY 2021 HC 304 ) is one of the latest authoritative studies  referencing the skills shortage.

The NAO report warns that Local Authorities may not have enough staff with the necessary understanding and knowledge to effectively engage with net zero policies. The authors cite a 2020 survey from the Local Government Association, which found 79 out of 90 respondents thought “a lack of workforce capacity” was a moderate or significant barrier to tackling climate change.

There are many other examples that have been published widely. One is that the Energy Whitepaper requires 40GW of wind generated energy and about 10 gigawatts have been installed but this has already almost maxed out the existing workforce. The transition of any workforce takes effort and resources.

Understanding the extent of that transition – not just numbers but also the many different specialisations – is also going to take time. This is fine for a change that has years to take effect and capacity building can catch-up. However, we need the skills now.  It is worth stating at this point that the Government Procurement has caught up and as of September 2021 any new contract awarded to a supplier, that has a value of £5M or more needs to have a carbon reduction plan in place (Procurement Policy Note – Taking Account of Carbon Reduction Plans in the procurement major government contracts Action Note PPN 06/21 05/06/2021).

If potential suppliers do not, then they will not be able to bid. So the question is who is going to provide the expertise to prepare  and monitor these carbon reduction plans? The transition does not just have a skills shortfall, there is also a lack of understanding of what those skills are. The need is not just for the technical specialists, the engineers, specialist construction, designers and maintenance engineers. It includes all the support that enables these to be deployed. That means financial, project management,  planning, training and procurement expertise to be part of an overall structure going forward. Given the sheer scale and complexity of retrofitting initiatives for real estate and installing low  carbon technologies the issues become clear.

When we then consider the needs of the SME population of the economy we are confronted by the fact that their experience of the transition will be very different to that of the much larger enterprises. The skills needed might be similar, but there are important differences. Therefore, access to an advisor that both understands the resource management priorities, commercial realities  and customer pressures is likely to be rare for some time. In addition, the ability of that advisor to formulate real solutions that bring the decarbonisation and other sustainability changes  in a way that addresses costs within this transition is likely to be even more scarce.

“…As well as industry specialists and technical skills that will continue to evolve with new technologies, successful transition will require more people with broader skills that match the demands  cross the wider economy, such as digital, management, and people skills . It will also be important to a successful transition that training can be topped-up over time as even some technical skills  to be learnt now will be outdated as technologies progress well before transition is completed.” Skills and Training for Green Economy – CBI, submission to Green Jobs Taskforce April 2021

There are probably two, key, ways to begin to address the shortage of skills. The first is to provide the learning paths to provide those skills to meet demand. This is not a short timeline exercise.  The second is to provide skills as an outsourced solution that can cover the initial demands while capacity builds. This is likely to be a long-term solution as the rate of change will always require  some buffer expertise. There is an opportunity for advisors with the right capability to fill one of the keystone skills gaps. That is, the quantification,  understanding and rapid provision of decarbonisation that is not disruptive and a plan that can be achieved financially and practically.

The word from the network is that there is a growing demand emerging and that the only real block is that organisations are aware of what they must do, but unsure of how to do it. They do not  hold skills in house and may never be able to afford nor find those skills to employ. Auditel has a cadre of advisors who specialise in Carbon Strategy and Sustainability for Business. This is being expanded and the fully packaged approach that integrates this with resource management and cost management has been adapted. For those who need the skills now or in the near future – this is viable option.