A blog by Siobhan Baillie, Stroud MP

COP26 might be over but the scale of the task is now clearer than ever. It will take all of us to pull together for the common good to protect our planet and its people.

Last month ahead of COP26, I was proud that my constituency hosted a COP fringe event in Gloucestershire, hosted by the Active Building Centre (ABC). We saw over 300 people from across the country come to ABC’s base at Berkeley Green. There were 40 panelists and 38 companies also playing a part to make the event a success. It certainly got people talking about the power of Gloucestershire’s environmental expertise.

GREEN SKILLS EMERGENCY

Separately, we know that the pandemic forced the country, indeed the world, to slow down. This has provided an opportunity for a clear-eyed look at a range of issues, including the need for skills for the UK’s future. Net zero cannot happen without know-how, and we face a green skills emergency at the moment. I have spoken about this in Parliament and spoke about it at Gloucestershire COP too.

The emergency is twofold:

First, there’s a challenge to reskills those who work in existing industries which will be affected by the transition. Fossil fuel production in the North Sea created very skilled, well paid workers who are sorely needed to make the transition successful, but they need a ‘skills bridge’ to retrain them for future industries.

We have no time to lose. COVI-19 and the oil price rout in 2020 saw 4,500 job losses. All this came after the 2014-2016 oil price crash, from which many supply-chain companies had only just recovered.

Meanwhile, renewables are becoming more cost-competitive and backed by both the private sector and government. BP recently announced a £10 billion plan to turn Aberdeen green. Last year, the Prime Minister announced that the UK will become the ‘Saudi Arabia of wind power’. There are particularly enticing opportunities for the UK to specialise in floating offshore wind; many British oil and gas companies are determined not to be beaten to the post by Ørsted and Siemens as they were with fixed offshore wind.

A 2020 survey found that four in five oil and gas workers would consider moving from their current role into new industries. But, without ‘skills bridges’ to help those affected find new employment, they will not get there. We risk losing their expertise just as we need it most for the green industrial revolution.

The second arm of the skills emergency is educating our young people. We have a huge skills gap for our future workforce which urgently needs closing. According to Onward’s Getting to Zero report, the UK needs 170,000 more workers to qualify each year than currently do so in net zero industries by 2030. I meet vocational further education (FE) students all the time who want to start businesses that are actively fixing environmental issues now and for the future. Yet they often don’t know where to start.

A WORKFOCE FOR THE FUTURE

At Gloucestershire COP I took part in a break-out session titled ‘what will the workforce of tomorrow look like?’. The session was chaired by SGS Stroud and the panel included University College London and Berkeley UTC College. So many people are focused on upskilling and reskilling our future workforces, but many don’t know the answers to what the future looks like – that is why we need leadership from both the public and private sector.

The Government’s Skills and Post-16 Education Bill is doing great work recognising colleges’ central role at the heart of our economic recovery. We are using colleges to address long-term regional inequalities and the transition to net zero. Stroud is already modelling putting employers at the heart of FE with the Growth Hub and GFirst Local enterprise partnership already based in our college.

LOCAL SKILLS PLANS SHOULD INCLUDE #NETZERO

As I said in my essay for the Conservative Environment Network, I believe there is a green skills emergency. Currently, only 5% of mechanics can fix electric vehicles; we have to change that. If we do not have skilled people, we will not be able to save the planet. It really is that simple. I am therefore pleased to note that the Government are also considering amending the Bill to require the local skills plans to include the UK’s net zero target and other environmental goals. That is really important if such plans are to be approved.

Gloucestershire COP was a fantastic opportunity for people to come together to discuss innovation towards the aim of net zero.

A SCIENCE PARK WITH A GREAT FUTURE

ABC’s base on the Science & Technology Park at Berkeley is also in focus as it is part of the superb South West backed bid to create the world’s first Fusion Power plant. This project would create 1000 skilled apprentices and draw on skills from across the country to break ground in 2030 and produce fusion in 2040. A culture shift back which puts technical skills back on par with academic skills is required, which needs us to highlight the employment opportunities offered by net zero to the current generation and the next ones.

My challenge to the Government, employers, FE colleges and schools is to make the green skills emergency central to any skills and career agenda. There is favourable economic, public and business desire, and political will to achieve net zero, but we need people with green skills to make it happen.