A bright future in the green economy

By on 13/04/2022 | Updated on 13/04/2022

Developing green industries will be vital in meeting our national net zero commitments, and it is only by harnessing the economic and business opportunities that flow from decarbonisation that we will reap the benefits of a thriving green economy.  

Powering this transition will be a highly skilled workforce. Net zero offers ample employment opportunities to our current and future workforce but, crucially, we need the skills to make this a reality.  

The types of skills needed are evolving at pace. A recent report from LinkedIn has demonstrated that while the number of workers transitioning into green jobs is increasing, it is still too low to match what is needed in the industry. The share of green talent in the global economy increased from 9.6 per cent in 2015 to 13.3 per cent in 2021, and workers with green skills are being hired at a higher rate than those without, but demand for green talent will soon outpace supply.  

If the exam question is how to address the skills emergency and close the gap in our future workforce, then there is a part for everyone to play in answering it. Government, businesses and education institutions must all urgently make green skills central to their careers agendas. This means both upskilling those who don’t yet have those skills and simultaneously educating new entrants to the workforce not only about the scale and pace of climate change and why it matters, but also what is needed to embark on their ‘green career’ and make a difference. 

Of course, the UK Government needs to take the lead and back the skills and training required to support our net zero economy, highlighting the value of engineering subjects as a key part of that. There must also be a coordinated drive to inspire more young people into STEM education at all levels, as there is a desperate need for the skills these subjects generate within the infrastructure sector.

Business and industry can provide the incentive by delivering on good, well-paid jobs; hiring diverse talent and looking to upskill workers at all stages of their career. We must demonstrate the types of careers that green skills can unlock and work closely with policymakers to emphasise the attractiveness of these sectors. This will include dispelling common myths that all engineers are simply out on site in overalls getting their hands dirty. These days many engineers wear suits, with their roles being consultative and geared towards knowledge sharing and innovative thinking.

Ultimately, bold action is needed to bring to life the socio-economic benefits of green jobs through policies that educate, attract and retain green talent. 

For its own part, and to support the growth of green industries, WSP has recently announced ambitious plans to recruit 2,000 people across the UK and Ireland in 2022. As we scale up, two areas of particular growth will be our Environment and Advisory Services disciplines, where roles for ecologists, climate specialists, digital specialists and development managers will support increasing activity across the infrastructure sector. We will also be supporting early career professionals as we look to create 350 graduate and 96 apprenticeship roles. We want to provide opportunities for growth to people from all backgrounds to ultimately drive industry change and innovation. 

Turning the Great Resignation into a great opportunity 

Yet for business a wider phenomenon is at play which makes this all the more challenging. The so-called ‘Great Resignation’ is impacting every industry and the engineering and professional services sectors are far from immune. Between July and September 2021, more than a million people in the UK changed jobs and, according to recent research by Microsoft, 41 per cent of people are likely to consider leaving their jobs within the next year.  

It’s clear that since 2020 and the advent of COVID-19, people’s priorities and expectations changed, having reflected on what is important both professionally and personally. Many have felt that their careers had effectively been put on hold for two years. Employees are reimagining their working lives to varying degrees. Some are prioritising flexibility and mobility, others are looking for more learning and development opportunities in a company whose culture inspires them, whilst others opting for a total career change.  

However you might label it, the Great Resignation, Great Reshuffle or even the The Big Quit, is something that businesses of all kinds are having to grapple with in our ‘new normal’. We shouldn’t see this as a blocker, but rather as a great opportunity to reset our future – with talented workers seeking out meaningful career paths, investing themselves in a company that invests in them. 

The Great Resignation means that companies are thinking as rigorously about their recruitment and retention strategies as they are about their business strategy. Five key things that employees value are: 

  1. Learning and Development: this is about personal growth and development and should challenge and motivate individuals; 
  1. Team and collaboration: opportunities to work collaboratively and learn from others; 
  1. Health and wellbeing: an holistic approach to the employment proposition to include hybrid working and meaningful wellbeing programmes to support colleagues; 
  1. Corporate purpose: employees want to feel that the company they work for and the work they do makes a tangible difference; 
  1. Sense of belonging: a sense of connection to the workplace. This culture of belonging in turn becomes a magnet for talent. 

So, while businesses must have honest conversations with themselves and look to excel in all five of those areas that we know employees and potential employees are looking for, at the same time policymakers should work to make sure every training pathway supports a diverse, skilled and net-zero aligned workforce. 

All this and more is needed if the UK is going to achieve the high-skill, net zero society and green economy that we need to secure long-term prosperity.

Author: Carol White, UK Recruitment Director and HR Operational Services at WSP, one of the UK’s largest engineering professional services consultancies

To find out more about the opportunities to further your career at WSP, please visit our webpage here. 

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