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Green STEM skills is critical to meeting future net-zero talent target

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EngineeringUK suggests that the UK could be moving toward a net-zero skills shortage after assessing a net zero workforce report exploring STEM jobs and the engineering skills required to decarbonise the UK economy.

The report suggests a lack of consistency in understanding the future demand for engineering and technical talent required to achieve net-zero targets by 2050 or the implications for people in STEM education. Researchers from the report suggest that to reach our carbon reduction targets, we need to clearly understand the number of future green industry jobs and skills required for these industries to achieve our net zero commitments.

Creating a workforce capable of responding to the climate crisis requires people with the relevant engineering skills and experience in STEM. The report suggests we need further focus on understanding the number of people pursuing STEM qualifications and how this corresponds with the number required to tackle these climate challenges. Further analysis indicates a lack of courses available to drive additional people into green-focused careers and toward the net-zero industry, as well as enough professionals to train students in these targeted industries.

Mike Hardisty, Head of Environmental Sustainability at EngineeringUK, explains that it’s clear we could be moving toward a shortage in net zero engineering skills without understanding exactly where and the scale of these skills and educational gaps. Hardisty believes that we need to implement changes that ensure the right policies are in place to address this skills shortage. 

Tackling the climate crisis involves addressing the challenges within our education system. We must ensure young people pursue STEM subjects, which requires the teachers and infrastructure to enable this. More action is needed to allow the younger generation to take up STEM-based qualifications with a focus on tackling climate change. For example, without enough young people studying chemistry, it could lead to a shortage of chemical engineers, which results in the necessary skills for the future workforce.

Decarbonising the UK economy will depend on engineering solutions and a skilled engineering workforce. A significant part of the workforce tasked with driving this transformation is employed, while many others are in education. The report summarised several reports on the green jobs and engineering skills required to meet this challenge and created recommendations for addressing some of these issues.

Several challenges were identified, including:

  • Forecasts without clarity concerning the proportion of new and replacement jobs
  • Reports lack clarity between technical and non-technical industry jobs
  • A lack of recognition of STEM uptake in education and ensuring future skills are met
  • Existing classifications may not be consistent with the latest roles and industries
  • Reports use a range of forecast timescales

The study clearly shows there is a strong demand for engineering skills. In some industries, this is escalated further, such as in engineering construction, where an ageing workforce will result in the loss of nearly 20,000 employees annually for the next few years. Other industries are facing significant pressure on reskilling and recruitment due predominantly to the decarbonisation goals set in the UK. For example, the energy sector will need to fill 400,000 positions by 2050, of which 260,000 will be brand new positions. In the building sector, retrofitting will involve training about 45,000 technicians every year at its peak. 

To address these challenges and ensure the Government delivers on its carbon reduction targets requires a clear definition of green jobs or skills taxonomy with regular data on workforce demands and employment rates, especially in critical sectors for the UK to achieve net zero. Further information on determining the number of engineering students in STEM required for reskilling and upskilling across various industries is vital for the Government to anticipate skills shortages, combined with delivering policy recommendations to address potential events. This information is crucial to developing a STEM education strategy, ensuring student numbers achieve the overall workforce.

A large part of the decarbonisation required in the UK, including energy, power and transportation, is dependent on creative engineering solutions and expanding the current low-carbon engineering solutions available. These measures will require a workforce with engineering, technicians and scientists capable of achieving these goals. While a large portion of the existing workforce responsible for this shift is employed, many people are progressing through the education system.

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