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Green jobs : why the wind is at the back of roles in renewable energy

With the government committing £12bn to kickstart a green industrial revolution, joining the sector as an apprentice could be a smart career move

Engineers climbing wind turbine from boat at offshore windfarm, low angle view

The Local Government Association believes that more than 25,000 jobs could be created in low-carbon electricity. Photograph: Monty Rakusen/Getty Images/Cultura RF

If somebody had told Mark Dyer a year ago that heat pumps would be leading the BBC News at Ten, he’s not sure he would have believed them. But the recent publication of the government’s 10-point plan to reach net zero by 2050 has shone unprecedented light on the renewable energy sectors.

“Last year, around 27,000 heat pumps were installed in residential homes. The government has just announced that they want 600,000 homes by 2028,” says Dyer, the deputy managing director of Daikin, one of the leading heat pump manufacturers in the UK.

Key to meeting that demand will be an expansion of the firm’s apprenticeship programme, he adds. “As the market expands, I will certainly want to recruit more.”

Accelerating the installation of energy-efficient heat pumps is just one of the proposals included in the government’s strategy for a £12bn green industrial revolution. There are also plans to expand the capacity of nuclear, hydrogen and wind power solutions. The measures are expected to create up to 250,000 jobs, although the Local Government Association (LGA) estimates direct jobs in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy will rise to more than 1.18m by 2050.

Many of those jobs are expected to benefit young people in the north of England, the Midlands, Scotland and Wales. In the north-east, for example, the LGA believes that more than 25,000 jobs could be created in low-carbon electricity, with planning permission for projects such as the Dogger Bank wind farm in the North Sea already granted.

Experts say the government’s announcement has provided some certainty for those in this sector. “In the past, we’ve had a lot of inconsistent policy and that’s made it more difficult for businesses to plan,” says Jess Ralston, an analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU). “We’re going to need these technologies to reach net zero, so we need to develop a workforce to deliver it.”

The quadrupling of offshore wind capacity is expected to support 60,000 jobs alone. Celia Anderson, people and skills director of the Offshore Wind Sector Deal, says the industry has committed to recruiting 2.5% of its employed workforce as apprentices. “And we will need to increase that substantially in the future. We’ve got some very big projects ahead of us,” she says.

“There is a vast array of jobs in this industry – we need people across HR, marketing, sales, business admin, as well as in the technician and engineering roles,” she adds. “Higher-level digital skills such as robotics, data analytics, programming and cybersecurity are also only going to become more important.”

The push to decarbonise transport is also creating new career paths, particularly around the creation of battery manufacturing facilities, known as gigabyte factories, says Prof David Greenwood, chief executive of the Warwick Manufacturing Group at the University of Warwick. “This creates a need for new skills in sectors that haven’t existed before. What these companies need are people who are ready for work the moment they walk in the door. An apprenticeship gives a good mix of the fundamental training and understanding that’s required, plus real world experience.

“That’s why we’ve been working so hard with UKBIC [UK Battery Industrialisation Centre] to develop apprenticeships to train a cohort of people to staff these facilities when they’re ready to open.”

The £130m UKBIC in Coventry works to provide the missing link between promising battery technology and successful mass production. Damian Pearce, UKBIC’s HR director, says: “I think the growth of apprenticeships in this area will be a very attractive proposition for young people. The prospect of joining an organisation that is at the early stages of this new green industrial revolution really seems to resonate with people. It’s a smart career move.”

Explainer: what is net zero and why must we reach it by 2050?

Net zero means achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed by the atmosphere. Reaching this target by 2050 will help limit worldwide temperate increases to 1.5c – as agreed by governments in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The UK government was one of the first to make this goal legally binding in 2019, a move which experts say has contributed to a growing number of countries and companies around the world commiting to net zero targets.

How will net zero be achieved by 2050?
Net zero will be reached by two different routes: reducing existing emissions and removing or offsetting the remainder. It will require significant investment in the green economy – in wind, solar, hydrogen, carbon capture, electric vehicles and more. The government has outlined plans for £12bn of investment to fund its vision for a new green industrial revolution.

What impact will this have on jobs for young people?
Job creation in the green economy will happen all over the country, but particularly in regions such as the north of England, the Midlands, Scotland and Wales.

The low-carbon and renewable energy sector already employs 225,000 people. It is estimated the number of people working in green jobs by 2030 will be 1-2 million.

The Offshore Wind Industry Council has announced it will hire at least 3,000 new apprentices by the end of the decade.

A retrofit army of almost half a million new builders, electricians and plumbers will be needed to make existing homes and business premises more sustainable.

A career with a greater purpose
A 2018 government survey found almost two thirds of young people are interested in pursuing a career in the green economy. In addition, a report last year from KPMG found attitudes towards oil and gas among younger generations are already posing challenges for recruitment in the fossil fuels sector.

Increased diversity
Renewables could support a drive for a more diverse workforce in the future energy sector. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), women currently hold about a third (32%) of the world’s renewable energy jobs.

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