Lack of skills could hinder net zero targets

A new survey has revealed that 93 per cent of UK engineering companies do not have the skills to meet net zero targets by 2050.

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The ‘Skills for net zero and a green recovery’ report, published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), revealed that only seven per cent of UK engineering companies with a sustainability strategy felt they had the skills to achieve it, and just over half (53 per cent) of UK engineering firms think net zero will be achievable for them.

When considering who should be accountable for tackling climate change, 25 per cent of businesses said responsibility lies with the government whilst 20 per cent said it was down to business and industry. The report showed that only 55 per cent of engineering employers have a sustainability strategy with specific activities and goals. Of those with a sustainability strategy, 67 per cent said it was integrated into their overall business strategy.

Nearly one in two engineering firms stated that they are currently experiencing skills gaps (46 per cent) with many choosing to upskill/retrain existing employees (47 per cent) or hire new employees with those skills (44 per cent). Only around a third (32 per cent) said they were recruiting and training apprentices or graduates.

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The report shows a shift in priorities following the economic impact of COVID-19, with wellbeing of staff and dealing with economic uncertainty now replacing profitability as the top priority for businesses surveyed. Recruiting staff with new skills was found to be the lowest priority for engineering employers at 35 per cent, compared with 38 per cent a year ago.

Stephanie Baxter, IET Skills and Innovation lead, said that a lack of people with the right specialist skills and knowledge poses a ‘huge risk’ to advancing the UK's green recovery. She added: “Whilst only seven per cent of businesses with a green recovery strategy say they have the right skills needed to fulfil it, recruitment overall at this time is their lowest priority. We now need to consider the economic impact this will have on furthering the UK’s sustainability agenda and our collective ability to achieve net zero targets by 2050.”

On hiring new recruits, 43 per cent of engineering employers said that university graduates don't have the skills needed to work in their industry while 38 per cent said that apprentices don’t understand the realities of work in the industry or that they lack the necessary technical skills (34 per cent). 

Employers cited innovative thinking (62 per cent), management strategic skills (60 per cent) and agility skills (60 per cent) as the those most needed in order to deliver their sustainability strategies.

“It’s disappointing to see there is still a low perception to the quality of young people entering the engineering sector,” Baxter added. “We believe by improving the understanding of the net zero challenge we face, we will be able to create work ready recruits that understand the importance of sustainability and ability to tackle problems that don’t yet have a known solution.

“The responsibility to reduce the impact on the climate rests on all of us and industry, government and educators now need to collaborate to identify and deliver the essential skills needed to deliver a fit for purpose workforce to achieve our net zero targets.”

The report details ten recommendations for education, government and policy and skills which include greater collaboration to improve work-readiness of recruits, improve the understanding of the net-zero challenge and building a more flexible and dynamic workforce.