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MPs urge government to heed skills shortage threat to net zero

MPs urge government to heed skills shortage threat to net zero

Credit: Unsplash

Institution of Engineering and Technology

5 min read Partner content

The UK will fail to meet its Net Zero target unless there is a “major increase” in the number of skilled engineers, MPs have warned, as a new report reveals the scale of the country’s skills gap.

A survey of engineering firms by the Institution of Engineering and Technology reveals that a majority believe the UK will be unable to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2050, with close to half citing skills gaps in current recruits and a lack of technical competencies in new applicants.

MPs from the influential Environmental Audit Committee said the report must serve as a “stark wake-up call” for the government.

Conservative MP Phillip Dunne, who chairs the group, said the UK’s current approach was “failing to grasp the scale of the challenge” and called for a long-term skills strategy.

Responding to the report – which revealed that just 37% of firms believe the UK can reach its 2050 target – Dunne said failure “was no option”, and urged the government to “wake up” to the fact that all jobs need to become greener.

“Existing policies are failing to grasp the scale of the challenge, and ambitious policies, such as installing 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028, will fail unless there is a major increase in the number of skilled engineers and certified installers,” said Mr Dunne.

“During a recent evidence session, my Committee heard Government’s aim for two million green jobs must be backed up with a long-term plan.

“This long-term plan should start from the beginning of a child’s learning and ought to be woven throughout the education system. In the shorter term, Government must gain a better understanding of potential skills gaps and support employers to fill them.”

Despite concerns, 35% of firms said the pandemic left recruitment their lowest priority with 60% furloughing staff through the job retention plan and 34% planning redundancies.

IET skills and innovation lead Stephanie Baxter said a lack of specialist skills and knowledge “poses a huge risk” to the green recovery, with only 7% of companies with a sustainability strategy believing they had the skills to fulfil it.

“We need to consider the economic impact this will have on the UK’s sustainability agenda and our collective ability to achieve net-zero targets by 2050,” said Ms Baxter.

“The responsibility to reduce the impact on the climate rests on all of us and industry, government and educators now need to collaborate to identify and deliver the essential skills needed to deliver a fit for purpose workforce to achieve our net-zero targets.”

“Our economy is far too reliant on the service sector and if we are to Build Back Better and embrace the Prime Minister’s vision our engineering sector is key to this,” said Duncan Baker MP.

The report made a multitude of recommendations to address the problem, including calling for joined-up thinking between business, education, and government sectors.

It called on government and academia to collaborate in identifying the key skills to deliver net-zero, with government providing long-term planning to guarantee investment in these skills, and support for innovation that leads to efficiency improvements and cost-reductions.

MP Duncan Baker, another member of the EAC, said that he agreed with the report, which confirmed his “long-established” view that the UK lacked engineers.

“Our economy is far too reliant on the service sector and if we are to Build Back Better and embrace the Prime Minister’s vision our engineering sector is key to this,” said Mr Baker.

“This is nothing new, engineers are not held in the same high esteem as they perhaps are on the continent and it is only by changing and improving this, giving engineers the recognition along with such measures as incentivising R&D spend, that we will start to see this change.”

It’s imperative colleges work with industry to ensure engineers are skilled correctly and ‘green jobs’ means ‘valid careers’,” said Cherilyn Mackrory MP

Cherilyn Mackrory, who also sits on the EAC, noted that while many new jobs will require new skills, the existing workforce would also form part of the transition.

She said: “Many oil and gas players are investing heavily in renewables. They may choose to upskill existing engineers, as well as hire brand new… it’s imperative colleges work with industry to ensure engineers are skilled correctly and ‘green jobs’ means ‘valid careers’.”

The report also looked at the specific skills new recruits were lacking, with 62% citing ‘innovative thinking’, and 60% citing either strategic or agility skills.

It also found that only 55% of engineering employers have a sustainability strategy that identifies any specific activities or goals, but did note that of those with a strategy, 67% said it was integrated into their overall business plan.

Even so, fellow Conservative MP Jerome Mayhew said the report’s findings were a “stark wakeup call” that only a “handful” of companies felt they had the skills needed to meet their ambitions.

“We need every student across England to be able to gain higher technical skills. If we can grow this sector of education, we will help unlock growth across the country as well as achieve net zero by 2050,” he said

“The recent data on student courses suggests that we are beginning to move in the right direction.”

Click here to read the IET’s full report

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