The UK is aiming to become carbon neutral by 2050. A key component of this will be supporting the development of green skills, jobs and industries which reduce or remove or offset the emission of harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Defining what green jobs and skills are, however, is proving something of a difficult task. The engineer working on fixing a wind turbine in the North Sea may be secure in the knowledge that their job is about as green as they get.
But what about the heavy goods vehicle driver who helped move the parts onto the site?
Electric/hydrogen HGVs are not commonplace, so they would have been using a diesel engine to get there. Does that offset whether or not their job is green, despite the obvious value they bring to the development of green energy?
In July this year, the government’s Green Jobs Taskforce suggested that “any job can be a green job”, delivering the following definition:
“Employment in an activity that directly contributes to – or indirectly supports – the achievement of the UK’s net zero emissions target and other environmental goals, such as nature restoration and mitigation against climate risks.”
This seems reasonable. Both the turbine engineer and the HGV driver are covered by the definition – the engineer fixes the green energy production mechanism; the HGV driver is indirectly supporting the engineer to do their job – everyone who should be is part of the green revolution here.
There is, however, a large amount of room for manoeuvre in the words “or indirectly supports”.
An argument might be made that a factory producing plastic clips for ballpoint pens, despite having made no discernible difference to their working practices or carbon output, is suddenly full of green workers, as they all “indirectly support” Wind Turbine Technicians in not losing their biro on site, which would hinder their ability to mark safety checklists.
The issue of supporting green skills and apprenticeships is of course very relevant in the energy and utilities sector. The recent Green Jobs Taskforce update included revised lists of free Level 3 courses available for adults in England and apprenticeships which have been designated green.
Some of these, like a BTEC in Environmental Sustainability, make intuitive sense. Others, like a Diploma in Motorcycle Maintenance do not seem to align as directly with the priorities of building a green workforce or attaining net zero.
Beyond the possibility of non-green industries claiming green credentials is also the consideration of how prioritising investment in green sectors, jobs, and skills is supposed to happen in any meaningful way, if every job can be green.
Taking the approach of the UK government into account and acknowledging the broader definitions and complexities in defining green jobs, we would like to put forward a Green Collar approach for the energy and utilities sector.
A direct Green Collar Job is a new or current role which enables a low carbon economy, or directly supports environmental goals, such as mitigation against climate change risks.
This would include Wind Turbine Technicians, Nuclear Engineers, Water Process Operatives, and Energy From Waste Recovery Operatives.
It would also include existing roles that require additional skills to repurpose them, such as Smart Meter Installer being extended to Low Carbon Domestic Technologies Installer.
Indirect Green Collar Jobs are existing jobs that contribute to the greening of economic activity, but do not involve any new specific green skills or tasks.
This covers the HGV driver delivering the components to construct the wind turbine, as they will very specifically be assisting the green economy’s supply chain.
This approach ensures that many roles in the energy and utilities sector can be recognised as essential in achieving the net zero target and mitigating climate change.
The sector would also be seen as one of the leading providers of Green Collar Jobs, improving its attraction for people looking for jobs and careers that have a direct impact on the decarbonisation of our economy and the longer-term preservation of the environment.
To find out more about the Green Collar definition, and take part in the debate, join our Policy Manager, Carl Jordan, as he presents the thinking so far in a webinar for The Careers & Enterprise Company on Thursday 11 November:
Register for the Green Jobs Webinar for Employers.