UK Net Zero Strategy Must Assemble a Mass Skilled Workforce

Source: 7/12/2021, Location: Europe

- Majority of UK energy professionals already training for net zero and considering a move this decade.
- The push of a skills strategy, from schools and up, is needed, alongside the pull of stable energy policy
- Upskill and retrain to avoid leaving conventional workforces and their communities stranded

Professionals across all walks of UK energy today call for government and industry to coalesce around a national skills strategy that underpins the development of low-carbon energy and supply chains, in a just way that does not leave today’s skilled workers and their communities stranded.

Their views, hopes and fears are revealed as part of Energy Barometer 2021: the net zero skills issue, based on responses from more than 400 UK professionals representing the span from renewables to oil and gas to energy efficiency.

Acknowledging progress in UK energy policy over the past year, but that further bold action is needed to get the country on track for its 2030 and 2050 emission reduction goals, respondents to the survey highlight that action to bring on the necessary workforce is pressing.

EI President Steve Holliday FREng FEI said:

“A laser focus on policies and initiatives to drive the development of low-carbon technologies is vital, but it must not eclipse the equally important need to support and develop the net zero workforce.

“We often hear about the long lead times involved in building a new power plant. But the lead times required to bring on a heat pump installer or wind turbine engineer - from inspiring interest in STEM in schools through the necessary apprenticeships and university degrees and into the workforce - are as long if not longer.

“The Barometer is clear that decarbonisation won’t happen at the necessary speed and scale without the assembly of a mass skilled workforce, and so we are encouraged by signals from ministers that this will be an integral part of the UK’s net zero strategy.”

UKERC Director and EI Trustee Prof Rob Gross FEI said:

“A national net zero skills strategy equally needs to focus on parts of the existing highly skilled workforce facing the most change. In the transition over the coming decades, roles in energy intensive industries, fossil fuel production and their supply chains will change markedly, so it’s vital for the reskilling to keep pace.

“Energy Barometer respondents see this as central to a just transition, and one of the most effective ways of securing the buy-in of communities up and down the country.”

Energy and Climate Change Minister, Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, said:

“Today’s invaluable findings from the Energy Barometer support the government’s priority to invest in the UK’s most important asset – our workforce – ensuring that people from every region of the UK have the right skills for the green industrial revolution and thrive in the jobs this will create.

“The measures we’re taking to eliminate our country’s contribution to climate change by 2050 are not just good for the planet; they are also helping us build back greener from the pandemic, creating new job opportunities across the country. This report shows how existing staff are stepping up to the plate, and planning to support the next generation within the nation’s vital sectors.”

Rhian Kelly, Director at National Grid and member of the Government's Green Jobs Task Force, said:

“If we are to achieve a green recovery and make progress on tackling climate change, we need the right skills and people in place. Our research shows hundreds of thousands of these green-collared roles will be needed across every nation and region of the UK, presenting a huge economic opportunity.

“Government working together with key industry representatives such as the Energy Institute, businesses, educators and trade unions will mean we can put in place meaningful and accessible training opportunities, help repurpose existing skills in the current energy workforce, and build a strong talent pipeline.”

Research by National Grid estimates that 400,000 diverse new recruits into energy will be needed for the UK to reach net zero by 2050, more than half of which will be in new roles.

Reflecting the need for mobility within, and new recruitment into, an industry in a state of major change, Energy Barometer 2021 finds:

- A majority call for more action by government and industry to build the skilled workforce of the future, and point to the need for the ‘push’ of a national net zero skills strategy underpinned by the ‘pull’ of a stable energy policy to send consistent, long term signals to drive workforce capacity.
- A majority (57%) of existing professionals are planning to undertake training in the next year as a result of net zero, but almost half (49%) have concerns about cost, time and availability of courses standing in the way of their skills development.
- Just over half are considering a move to a different field of energy - for 52% a move has either happened, or they are considering moving in the next decade. Low-carbon fields including energy and carbon management, wind power, hydrogen and CCUS are singled out as preferred destinations.
- A majority point to investment in skills in the existing workforce as necessary to overcome the strong sense that communities are disconnected from net zero. There is support (46%) for investing in decarbonising carbon intensive industries so they can continue to operate in the UK, and a majority (57%) for support specifically for skills and retraining to avoid oil and gas professionals being left stranded.
- Climate change is a motivating factor for new entrants to the industry, ranking second after job security and career progression. Engineering and technical skills still remain the most sought-after by employers, followed by whole system thinking, reflecting the increasingly integrated nature of the energy system.
- Much more needs to be done to break down barriers to diversity and inclusion in the industry. While there is barely any support (3%) for gender quotas, there is strong support (42%) for family-friendly, flexible working arrangements.

More widely, there are signs that getting net zero on the statute book and hosting COP26 have given fresh impetus to energy policy and that the global pandemic will, on balance, help the low-carbon transition over the next decade.

- Views on conventional fuels appear to be hardening. UK energy professionals who support new licencing of fossil fuel production and use in the UK are now in a minority. New coal mining attracts the least overt support (12%), followed by shale gas (25%), offshore oil and gas (36%) and gas fired power generation (43%). The International Energy Agency’s recent net zero roadmap concluded no new fossil fuel permissions should be given if global net zero is to be reached.
- On low-carbon solutions, sentiment continues to be very positive on policy around renewables (76%) and low-carbon transport (60%) and is moderately strong in relation to hydrogen (55%) and CCUS (48%). Government action is seen as less successful on fuel poverty (only 18% positive) – and positive perceptions of energy efficiency policy (now 42%) have been declining every year since the survey began. Overall a significant number continue to believe the UK will fall short of its carbon reduction targets in 2030 (51%) and 2050 (85%). As the Climate Change Committee also recently concluded, major policy delivery steps are still required.

Notes for editors

1- For media enquiries, please contact Robyn Wainwright on 020 7467 7173 or
2- The Barometer 2021 report is at
3- Previous Energy Barometer reports can be found at
4- The Energy Institute (EI) is the chartered professional membership body bringing together expertise for urgent global challenges.

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