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The Prime Minister has said that the government’s new skills and education bill will be the “rocket fuel” for job creation and economic recovery, but it won’t succeed in its mission unless it recognises the challenges and opportunities of climate change.
“Global warming and the transition to a Net Zero economy and society will reshape industries, jobs and communities. New industries will emerge and others fade away, and new job roles will be created and others lost.”
This analysis from a group of education, skills and labour market experts captures both the strategic challenge and the opportunity that policy-makers in the UK and internationally face today. Their recent pamphlet, published by the Campaign for Learning, goes on to say that the UK’s post-16 education and skills framework also needs to change if we are to achieve our national net zero emissions targets by 2050.
The Climate Change Committee agree, and their recent progress report focused on the need to develop a strategy for a net zero workforce that supports people transitioning out of high carbon jobs and that integrates relevant skills into the UK’s education and skills framework. This was not a vague recommendation for the future – the CCC wrote this action in red, for immediate attention in 2021.
A recent study from think tank Onward suggests that an estimated 3.2 million UK workers 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. While the government’s own Green Jobs Taskforce set out the risk of huge lost opportunity for young people and existing workers. Without consideration of the country’s net zero targets in the Bill we also weaken the UK’s prospects of leading a green industrial revolution globally.
Currently the Bill makes no reference to the Climate Change Committee’s priority action for a strategy for a net zero workforce
Fortunately, legislators have a golden opportunity to do this via the government’s Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which is now being debated in the House of Lords. Legislation like this does not come often and its timing offers a generational chance not just to put the UK’s own house in order but for the UK to demonstrate real leadership on the roadmap to net zero in the run up to the critical COP26 summit. However, currently the Bill makes no reference to, nor appears to have given any consideration to, the CCC’s priority action for a strategy for a net zero workforce.
Improvements to the Bill are needed in three main areas.
First, it needs an overarching skills strategy for the UK which aligns education and skills policy with climate and nature priorities at both national and local levels. It also needs provisions for regularly assessing the substantial skills gaps that businesses regularly highlight.
Second, too many barriers exist, from access to funding and overly restrictive universal credit rules, excluding many from being able to learn and retrain throughout their lives as the jobs market evolves. An oil and gas worker seeking to transfer their skills to a renewables business could be excluded from the lifelong learning support system. This must be changed to allow flexibility for reskilling to make it as easy as possible for people to shift to low carbon jobs.
Finally, it needs to embed education for sustainable development (ESD) in the post-16 qualifications framework. An understanding of sustainable approaches and analysis is not just foundational for specific professions but because education is a catalyst for driving the wider behaviour change and public understanding needed if we are to meet the targets that we want to agree in Glasgow. Some 80% of those participating in Parliament’s climate assembly believed that climate should be a compulsory subject in all schools; this would extend to colleges, which are covered by the Bill.
These gaps will not address themselves. It is the role of government to deliver the joined up strategies and sector plans needed to achieve the targets set out in the UK’s Climate Change Act. There is strong consensus across political parties on the role that learning and training must play in tackling the systemic threats posed by the climate and nature crises.
The vision of a more prosperous and sustainable UK economy and society is achievable. What we need now is action to ensure we have the legislation and national strategy to deliver it.
Baroness Hayman is a crossbench peer. Lord Knight of Weymouth is a Labour peer. Baroness Sheehan is a Liberal Democrat peer.
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