Money for Green Jobs is welcome – but do we know what they are?

As attention shifts to how the country recovers from Covid, it’s common to hear views that we should prioritise a green recovery. In just the last month, we’ve had a call from 57 big charities calling for a focus on low carbon from those receiving state support, a proposal for £30bn worth of shovel ready green projects, and research from the LGA saying that we can create 1m more green jobs by 2050. And the UK government seems to be listening. On top of the commitment to Net Zero by 2050, and the forthcoming COP Presidency, it’s likely that as my colleague Natascha’s piece flags, tomorrow’s statement by the Chancellor will allocate billions to projects on home insulation and green jobs.

So given this, it’s slightly worrying that we can’t actually define what a green job is.

Consider three examples. Someone building a wind turbine. That’s pretty clearly a green job. Someone who works in HR in a renewable energy company – the job isn’t green, but the industry is. Is that a green job? What about someone who works in sustainable procurement – clearly green – for a company who works in a non-green industry, like management consultancy?

The best stats that we have on green jobs in the UK come from the Low Carbon and Renewable Energy Economy dataset collated by the ONS. This estimates that we have 224k ‘green jobs’ – but this is only from 2018, and this hasn’t increased much since 2014.

The ONS cuts the data in two ways. Firstly, it disaggregates the jobs across 17 major ‘green’ sectors – offshore wind, low emission vehicles, and the like. The overwhelming number of jobs are unhelpfully in “other energy efficient products”

The LCREE also cuts these jobs by SIC code. We can see that the overwhelming number of jobs are in manufacturing, and construction – many SIC codes have only a handful of green jobs.

But the crucial next step – putting these two crossbreaks together – can’t be done. The ONS judgement is that given that green jobs can span different SIC codes within a business, it would be confusing. Where does someone who manages solar panels (SIC code N) within a school (SIC code P) become categorised? Additionally, given how small some of the sub sector numbers are already, the confidence intervals when these were put together would outweigh the usefulness of such data.

So without knowing more precisely what a green job is, and precisely where in the economy they are, or even how many we have since 2018, we don’t know where the shortages are – and at which qualification levels. Manufacturing is clearly dominant, but is the demand at Level 2/3, or more advanced levels? And what kind of manufacturing – onshore wind manufacturing is very different from making batteries, which is different from making energy efficient lighting. Or is the gap not in manufacturing, but in a small but rapidly growing sector such as green finance, which typically requires qualifications at Level 6+?

And if we don’t know that, then we don’t know what the supply side infrastructure needs to be. Do we need more FE college courses at L3 or L4 or L5 that run for a year or so? Do we need more advanced green engineering degrees taking place over multiple years? Do we need thousands of top up courses to upskill say gas engineers for a day or two?

It seems like if we’re about to invest billions in retraining – to help achieve Net Zero, to create green jobs, and to build a skills led recovery – all highly valuable objectives in their own right-  we should know a lot more than we do.