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Insights from NOCN Group Green Skills Conference: 'A Skills System for a Net Zero Economy'

On May 23 2024, NOCN Group hosted a Green Skills Conference entitled 'A Skills System for a Net Zero Economy' at the CEME Business Campus in London.

The event brought together industry leaders, educators, and stakeholders to focus on the critical need for green skills to support the UK’s transition to a sustainable future.

Paving the way to a green future

The conference started with a keynote address by Graham Hasting-Evans, Chief Executive of NOCN Group, who emphasised the multi-faceted challenge of ‘greening’ the environment. He outlined the critical areas needing attention, including improving the energy efficiency of 25 million older homes, generating sustainable power through renewable energy, and managing natural resources like peat bogs and forests to reduce pollution. Graham stressed the importance of a strategic approach to skill development, focusing on both the current and future workforce:

"We can't just rely on new entrants; we need to train the existing workforce through short courses."

The need for industry-government collaboration on green skills

Speaker Andrew Eldred, Chief Operating Officer at ECA (Excellence in Electrotechnical and Engineering Services) highlighted the inter-dependence of green technologies and the necessity for industry and government to collaborate on skills development. He pointed out the significant skills gap, particularly the decline in electricians and fitters, and the need for more fully flexible electricians rather than fast-tracked green installers:

“Net zero growth is a challenge, but an achievable one, with an estimated need for 700-1,000 additional electricians annually for EV and PV installations.”

Greening the curriculum

Mike Blakely of Exeter College shared their focused strategy on green skills, inspired by environmental advocates like David Attenborough. The College's retrofit skills centre aims to engage over 700 learners annually, addressing the massive retrofitting needs of over 12 million homes. Blakely emphasised the importance of aligning curriculum with employment outcomes and the necessity of investment in the workforce to achieve the net zero transition.

Eddie Playfair and Phil Parle from Association of Colleges (AoC) told delegates that 75% of colleges have a net zero plan, with 65% actively developing green skills programs. They emphasised that all jobs will need to incorporate green elements, not just the projected two million specific green jobs.

Playfair noted:

"Students are at the forefront, pushing colleges to integrate sustainability into their curricula."

The event underscored the critical role of colleges in understanding and acting on local needs, fostering collaborations with employers, manufacturers, and trade bodies to develop relevant and impactful green skills qualifications.

Building an adaptable green workforce

A panel, featuring representatives from small businesses, education, and industry, then discussed the challenges smaller firms face in sustaining apprenticeships. They debated the potential benefits of shortening apprenticeship durations and the importance of providing local solutions through collaboration and funding incentives.

The ‘Skills System for a Net Zero Economy’ event concluded with a collective call to action with the speakers and participants echoing the sentiment that the transition to a net zero economy hinges on a well-trained and adaptable workforce.

Special thanks to AoC, and CEME, for making this event possible. Their support is crucial in driving forward the agenda for a sustainable future.