The green energy industry is regularly touted by the Government as being a huge job creator of the future. Louisa Peacock asks where the future work will come from.
Blustery weather and stormy seas certainly give the UK an advantage when it comes to growing the renewable energy industry. Tens of thousands of offshore wind roles have been created in recent years and the sector is tipped to become a huge job creator in the coming decade.
But where exactly will future green jobs come from and just how feasible are projections for growth?
Unemployment figures yesterday dampened the UK outlook, with a surge in jobless youths contributing to the biggest unemployment rise for almost two years. Any talk of future jobs growth seems like fantasy when 2.5m Britons are still out of work.
major report for The Telegraph by the Work Foundation, however, argues that looming regulations – including that the UK reduce its carbon emissions 34pc by 2020 – give the Government little choice but to invest in a low-carbon economy. Ministers have also pledged to obtain 15pc of the country’s energy from renewables, compared to just 2.3pc in 2008, making the sector a high growth target.
The volume of “green” jobs created depends heavily on the level of Government support, the Work Foundation argues.
But current estimates from trade body RenewableUK are optimistic – despite the current doom and gloom. The offshore wind industry could be worth £8bn by 2020, generating 70,000 jobs, the organisation says. The entire renewables sector already employs 250,000 people and is worth £33bn a year to the economy.
The Work Foundation report argues the vast majority of low-carbon jobs are unlikely to centre around high skills – at least in the short term.
Homes account for about a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions, meaning the “retrofitting” of existing buildings to cut their energy use is a Government priority, report author Paul Sissons says.
The bulk of jobs growth here will be in low to medium-skilled jobs, Sissons says, putting the technologies gleaned from high-skilled engineering into practice. These include plumbers, electricians, insulators and maintenance specialists to help make homes greener.
As Will Day, low-carbon adviser at PricewaterhouseCoopers, puts it: “Britain does not need an army of Nobel-prize winning scientists to develop a low-carbon economy.”
But Sissons warns a number of young people entering the jobs market don’t appear to be interested in the roles going, which threatens to hold back growth. “Progression from these lower-wage jobs is generally poor. There are cultural issues at the lower end of the labour market,” he says.
Employers regularly complain of a shortage of employable candidates equipped with “softer” skills like team-working alongside technical ability, he adds.
With almost one million young people out of work, the Government and employers need to find a better way of enticing young people towards the available jobs, Sissons says.
Where the UK could see a shift in the types of roles going in future – potentially offering a brighter career path for individuals – is in the creation of new jobs combining technical expertise with “front-of-house” selling skills.
Day says UK employers can gain a real advantage in the low-carbon economy by offering customers “the service behind the product”. He points to the likes of Everest selling the “complete solar installation service” beyond double-glazing, or Marks & Spencer helping to “retrofit” homes using the latest technology.
Workers that can grasp the vocational expertise needed as well as these “employability” skills will find it far easier to climb the career ladder, Sissons says.
If the Government fails to tackle the skills mismatch, employers could have to rely more on migrant workers to plug gaps while UK youth unemployment gets worse, he warns.
Of course, Britain will still need highly-skilled researchers, scientists and engineers to help it develop the new technologies and products to sell to customers – either in the UK or abroad, the Work Foundation forecasts.
But Sissons suspects these jobs will be limited in number compared to lower-skilled roles. Not only are other countries like Germany and China forging ahead in low-carbon innovation, the research and development roles themselves can be outsourced abroad to cheaper economies.
“There is not likely to be an enormous decline in lower-skilled jobs because the roles are non-tradable services,” Sisson says.