Editor's Pick

Green skills shortage is an opportunity for local authorities

A huge shortfall in the environmental workforce is causing big problems within organisations. Is focusing on internal training the solution? 

three men sitting while using laptops and watching man beside whiteboard

While taking action to address climate change is often considered the responsibility of the national government, local authorities have a vital role to play.  

Whether a waste manager making procurement decisions, or a planning officer authorising a housing development, many council decisions can support the delivery of a sustainable future. 40% of people believe local authorities are best placed to tackle climate change in their area, falling to 30% for central Government and 19% for individuals. But local authorities must bolster workforces with green skills to address climate change and best meet the long-term needs of communities.

Driving societal change

Local authorities are uniquely positioned to help deliver behavioural change at a grassroots level. Employees armed with environmental knowledge will be better equipped to educate the communities they serve when it comes to sustainable action.

Working with the community when it comes to decisions that impact the climate will ensure alignment with local sentiment, wants, and needs. This empowers local authorities to craft policies that resonate with public opinion, garnering widespread and long-lasting support. Through collaborative efforts, local authorities can cultivate a culture of sustainability that transcends individual actions, creating a positive impact for generations.

How to go about it

The stark reality is that the state of the current job market poses a major challenge. There is a dearth of talent with the required green skills, limiting the capacity of employers to make tactical hires which can effect immediate change. 

Instead, the best solution lies within an authority’s existing workforce. Local authorities can, and should, look to equip current staff with the tools and knowledge to meet their present and future sustainability goals. 

Upskilling the workforce with green skills will not only address a critical skills gap. It will also help to attract and retain talent, by demonstrating a commitment to responding to climate needs.

Setting out your education strategy

Whilst a simple enough concept, green skills admittedly differ from industry-to-industry and region-to-region. For instance, the green skills required in London will be different to those needed in Cornwall or Newcastle. This is further complicated as definitions change with the evolving climate discourse. It will likely grow to encompass a broad range of factors and requirements. 

For authorities setting out their training strategies, this is undoubtedly confusing. To overcome this, training plans should relate to the main services the authority provides, from homes and building, to transport and waste management.

The key to building an effective green skills strategy lies in taking the time to identify which combination of skills is most suitable for an authority’s progression towards its targets. This ranges from achieving its net zero goals, to integrating climate change measures into policies or contributing to the just transition.

Taking a holistic approach to change

Green skills should not be reserved for any one specific role. Priority should be given to rolling out the necessary relevant training across the entire workforce. In doing so, an authority will nurture a culture which has sustainability as a core principle.

This also prevents the exclusion of departments who may – on first glance – not have the most immediate need for such training but are, in fact, key to delivering sustainable transformation. Take for consideration, the digital, technology or administration teams.  

Authorities, especially smaller ones, should potentially partner with professional training providers. These companies can provide valuable insights around the prioritisation of skills, and help design a tailored, effective programme to deliver such upskilling.

Even if local authorities are on board, it’s important to note real change will only come if a professional skills drive is complemented by central governmental action. A commitment from government, reviewing and enhancing other green training pathways is how this could take shape. These could be apprenticeships, traineeships, internships, or skills boot camps. This would serve the purpose of providing young people with an early understanding of green career pathways, and give them the confidence and skills needed to move into an entry-level role.

Final thoughts

As things currently stand, we are facing one of humanity’s greatest challenges, and it will require every part of government to play a part in responding.

Today’s workforce is not equipped with the skills capable of driving the drastic change that is so desperately needed. A collaborative movement, from both business and government, is fundamental if we are to succeed. A knowledgeable workforce, bolstered by incoming crops of environmentally-educated young talent, will lay the foundations in our journey towards a sustainable future. 

Henry White, Co-founder and CEO of xUnlocked, a specialist provider of climate, environmental and sustainability training and education. 

More features:

Migratory birds are dying, here’s why we all need to care

World Environment Day: Welsh quarry reclaimed by nature gives us hope

Empowering tomorrow: UK energy storage ready to plug-in

Image: Austin Distel



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