The future of green jobs: there’s gold in them there skills

Writing in Circular magazine, editor Ian Farrell says the UK is embarking on something of a green-skills gold rush, planning the type of workforce we need for the future. It’s an area in which CIWM is playing a very important part.

It’s no secret that our sector is in the middle of a period of incredible change. We are transforming from an industry that used to manage waste by burying it out of sight in a hole in the ground, to one that repurposes and recycles, turning waste back into valuable resources.

Step back a little and you’ll see that this change is just part of a much wider metamorphosis: a so-called “green industrial revolution” – based on the government’s 25-year environmental plan and net-zero strategy – that touches every part of society, not just the waste and resources industry.

Managing change on such a scale takes careful planning, particularly when it comes to predicting the skills that will be needed by the workforce in a net-zero world.

To this end, the UK government has set up the Green Jobs Delivery Group – a cross-discipline committee dedicated to creating green jobs. Crucially, the waste industry has a seat at this influential table, in the form of CIWM past president Dr Adam Read, who also works hand in hand with CIWM’s Skills for the Future Working Group (SFWG).

Read, who made green skills the focus of his 2020-21 presidency, has been vocal about how important it is for the waste sector to have representation at this level.

They (the Government) want to see that these careers are real – not voluntary or low-paid.

“Having spent several hours inside ministerial buildings at Defra and BEIS [the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy], talking to important people such as the Rebecca Pows and Greg Hands of this world, I now know that what [the government] wants to see is 20 career roadmaps,” Read said in a recent podcast.

“They want to see that these careers are real – not voluntary or low-paid. They want to see that they are highly skilled and have a long-term future, and that we can take them into careers advice in schools and universities; make the apprentices a reality. That will be the big-ticket item.”

CIWM’s representation at the Green Jobs Delivery Group ensures the voice of the sector will be heard at the very heart of government. To develop that voice, members of the SFWG were asked to predict what they think will be the green jobs in the waste sector in years to come, and what skills people will need to carry out these roles.

They were also asked which green occupations will be the most important when it comes to driving the transition towards net zero in the near, medium and long terms. In addition, they were quizzed on when, and to what scale, we will see employer demand for skilled individuals who can move into these roles.

Green jobs
CIWM Past President Dr Adam Read said the Government want to see that green jobs are “highly skilled and have a long-term future”.

It is key to establish whether there are regional nuances, and how well existing skills provision might meet demand in these occupations, both nationally and in regions where green jobs are already concentrated.

Responding to the question of when different job roles will be needed, SFWG members noted that some occupations will be required fairly soon, while others would only be in demand once the “green rush” was well under way.

Furthermore, they said it is hard to predict when this time period will be, because it depends on drivers such as resource availability, the price of oil, and the level of resistance offered by the public and industry.

Some jobs, such as green chemists, will be small in number but vital, working across sectors. Other roles, such as repairers, trainers and collection operatives, will be needed in higher numbers, to support the transition to a greener economy.

Career progression

Of course, these newly trained employees will not just appear, magically, from thin air. While some will be school or college leavers, most will be transitioning from other roles and sectors. The SFWG discussed how existing jobs will change during the green transition, with a requirement to upskill and retrain the workforce.

Our sector has the potential to look different too, if it absorbs job roles that are currently considered to lie elsewhere. For instance, will repair technicians – who will be essential to the circular economy – be classified in the waste sector or in manufacturing?

The knowledge, practices and principles of the waste sector will need to be communicated to other parts of the manufacturing process, requiring training. For example, product designers will need to be retrained to apply circularity and sustainability principles to their designs.

All of this will make enabling and facilitating roles from other sectors – such as trainers and coaches – absolutely vital.

The next steps

The work of the SFWG is ongoing and the findings of this first report are intended to be the foundations of studies to come. CIWM intends to promote activity from this meeting and invite others in the sector to get involved.

green jobs
Speaking on a podcast, Dr Adam Read said the Government want to see that the sector can take green skills into careers advice in schools and universities

It is hoped that a conceptual model can be built that will demonstrate the interdependencies between our industry and others. This will also help benchmark planning work done in the waste management industry against other sectors.

When they embarked on this study, members of the SFWG agreed that they were just starting out on the journey towards a greener economy, and that there is a long way to go.

But every journey begins with a first step, and it feels very good to be walking down a road to a greener future.

Special research project

As Circular went to press, we received word that CIWM trustees have approved funding for even more green-skills research that will help us further understand our sector’s needs.

As well as providing critical data to support government decisions, this information will give insight that can help shape CIWM’s membership plans, learning and development strategy, and knowledge frameworks.

The benefits of the research are expected to include: industry-informed estimates of the demand for future jobs and skills; a clearer understanding of how our membership perceives the sector; and closer ties with government departments, such as the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions.

CIWM will need the views and experiences of all members to shape this important research, which will be presented to government in early 2023. Look out for further communications and opportunities to get involved.

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