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How can the UK tackle the sustainability talent challenge?

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The sustainability industry is experiencing a significant surge. The UK is producing a record amount of renewable energy, and global investment in emerging technologies like wind, solar and electric vehicles exceeded a trillion dollars in a single year for the first time. However, the rise of the sustainability industry may be happening so quickly that the market cannot maintain pace. As a result, the UK is facing a considerable green skills gap, with an existing shortfall standing at 200,000 professionals, according to a recent PwC report. With the demand for green-focused roles increasing by over 90%, the current situation could impact any decarbonisation plans taken by the UK unless a solution is found. 

Reasons for a green skills shortage 

Several factors have created one of the biggest skills shortages in the UK. The education industry has struggled to maintain pace with technology innovation, while Brexit has added further pressure by implementing restrictions on selected visas.

Sustainability is a rapidly developing market, and skilled professionals will remain in short supply until job confidence improves. As such, salaries have accelerated as businesses compete to fill job vacancies, but it also means companies have to do more with fewer resources and lower budgets.

There are several key areas where businesses are finding it challenging to fill the green skills gap:

Technical expertise: Many green and sustainability positions require specialist skills to develop and implement new solutions. But with every industry looking for these professionals, there is significant demand and very little supply.

Training and Education: Many green industries require specialised training and education to enter the sector, but there is a lack of sufficient programs and resources to provide this training.

Diversity and Inclusion: The sustainability industry lacks adequate diversity and inclusion. Tackling this issue is critical to ensure the market can attract and retain a diverse talent pool.

How businesses can tackle the sustainability skills gap 

To reduce the skills gap, the main priority is investing in developing the existing workforce. The sustainability industry is a particularly high-growth market, which makes it even more appealing to professionals looking to learn new skills and deliver more appeal from a hiring perspective. With training and upskilling, the industry is becoming more popular, with rising demand in various areas such as waste reduction, energy conservation, sustainable procurement and supply chain management.

While a sustainable future represents the clear answer, many businesses fail to capitalise on a significant and diverse talent pool. Creating a graduate sustainability program and partnering with educational groups delivers a winning situation for both sides. The business acquires valuable resources and ensures the next generation of employees has the appropriate skills to implement sustainable processes.

Businesses can partner with specialist sustainability-focused organisations to secure access to valuable resources and talent. By utilising the knowledge and skills of reputed people in the sustainability industry, companies can accelerate the time in implementing sustainability action plans.

Transformation for the public and private industries 

While there are steps businesses can take, the private sector alone can’t be responsible for the extent of the challenge. If the UK is to become a sustainability leader, there is a significant need for government-level intervention. There are many options this can be provided. The Green Jobs Taskforce Report published in 2021 included recommendations to ensure green jobs and skills could be delivered, including support for job development and skills and delivered unemployment programs to ensure more people pursue a green career. Increased funding for education and training to support career progression in sustainability should be another priority. Digital and tech skills are becoming more critical in sustainability, but rising competition in other sectors means there must be an added incentive to reduce the talent gap.

The UK is making significant steps in delivering a sustainable future, but a skills shortage could hinder the potential of this market. By taking these measures, the UK can become a global leader in sustainability talent and a dominant force in environmental and green development.

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