I recently attended the Scotsman Green Skills Conference. Every speaker made it clear that there will need to be a major skills transition across many sectors and geographies to meet Scotland’s ambitious net zero targets.

The scale, breadth and urgency of the skills transition makes it a big challenge, ranging from reskilling workers for highly specific technology deployment, to flexible new skills across a range of processes, industries, sectors and communities.

I have always been passionate about the role that education can play in helping us all develop new skills at all stages of life and help promote equality, lifelong learning and access to new roles. This is a central principle of the Scottish Government’s just transition; the idea that transitioning to net zero can create new economic opportunities, while increasing social equality and ensuring workers in sectors such as oil and gas do not lose out.

As a new project manager in CXC, handling the newly-created Business, Economy and Society brief, here I discuss some initial thoughts on what we know about the skills transition from CXC research and how our upcoming projects will be examining the question of skills more closely.

What we know about green skills

Skills and training has been a cross-cutting issue in many of CXC’s research projects. Much of this research has focussed on identifying challenges relating to current and future skills provision, especially in the areas of heat and energy.

Recent CXC reports have found substantial and urgent requirements for new knowledge and skills in areas such as district heating, energy efficiency and low carbon heat measures in domestic and non-domestic buildings in the next decade. Our research has also identified substantial gaps in existing energy efficiency and low carbon heat workforce. This existing skills gap adds to the challenge of achieving the required future workforce numbers across energy and low-carbon heating.

However, it is not only about training the workforce to perform new tasks. Our research has also identified other issues such as a need to make it easier for businesses to identify and apply for funding to support upskilling and re-skilling in energy efficiency; the need for industry and further and higher education to think creatively about routes into net zero industries, and how to accredit and certify skills; and the need for both employers and trainees to have confidence in future net zero scenarios in order to make plans and invest.

We still have questions

Based on what I saw at the Green Skills Conference, I have identified three key challenges for CXC research into green skills development:

1. More workforce forecasting in specific sectors

It is likely that the Scottish Government will require more evidence about specific current and future skills gaps across different industries that are key to the net zero transition, such as energy and transport.

This knowledge is key in ensuring investment and resources can be properly mobilised, and will certainly be a major focus for CXC research in the near future.

2. The different geographies of green skills

It is clear that hubs of highly skilled and specialised green workforces are emerging, such as Aberdeenshire’s transition to renewable energy technology. However, it is less clear what the green transition means for skills development in other areas, especially rural communities.

There are clear opportunities for net zero jobs in rural areas, for example sustainable tourism, small-scale renewable energy, food and drink, nature restoration and nature-based solutions, but jobs can be more seasonal and less well-paid than in the emerging high-tech hubs, and there are not obvious sources of investment in re and upskilling. Several speakers at the conference also suggested that it is less clear what a ‘green job’ means in these contexts, where people’s roles might require a mix of skills and expertise.

What mix of policy and investment can enhance green skills development in rural, coastal and island contexts, and help deliver a just transition? This will be a focus for CXC, with new research into islands net zero skills requirements currently being developed.

3. Skills to help business and industry adapt to climate change

This is an overlooked but key area where creative approaches to skills and training will be needed. New skills for adaptation and more flexible approaches to workforce planning will be required across many sectors.

To take just one example, CXC research into adaptation and social care found that extreme weather can have knock-on effects on workforce planning and training. If one or two specialised staff members cannot get to work, this can have a big impact on service delivery. However, planning for extreme weather events is not front of mind for human resources teams. There is a substantial research gap around how to help business and industry improve the resilience of their workforce to climate change.

I am looking forward to hearing what researchers we work with find out about the ‘what, where and when’ of net zero workforce planning, as well as learning more about the more knotty problem of ensuring good and resilient green jobs across Scotland.

Related links

Scotsman Green Skills Conference 2022

ClimateXChange Jobs and skills challenge

Featured ClimateXChange projects

Clean heat and energy efficiency workforce assessment

Creating a pipeline for industrial decarbonisation in Scotland: Promoting project progression

Mapping of district heating feasibility studies in Scotland

Delivering social care in a changing climate