In the Catch22Minutes podcast, we delve into some of today’s major social challenges. We speak to frontline experts, industry leaders and young people, in pursuit of ideas for reforming public services.
With the recent release of our manifesto: 22 ways to build resilience and aspiration in people and communities, our fourth season focuses on some of our key policy asks. It is presented by Catch22’s Head of Policy and Campaigns, Stella Tsantekidou.
In this episode of Catch22Minutes, we’ll be discussing the topic of green skills.
As we say in our manifesto, we want to see the next government commit to ensuring the UK is a true skills hub, identifying the skills required for jobs of the future and equipping the workforce to meet those needs. Specifically, we are asking the government to increase the number of green skills training courses and amend more courses to be green, such as lifetime skills, boot camps and apprenticeships.
To discuss the importance of green skills and jobs of the future, Stella is joined by Jeevun Sandher, Head of Economics at the New Economics Foundation, and the Labour Parliamentary candidate for Loughborough.
Stella Tsantekidou: Welcome to the Policy series of the Catch22Minutes podcast. My name is Stella Tsantekidou and I’m Head of Policy and Campaigns here at Catch22. In this series, I will be exploring policy issues from our Manifesto, which we launched in September.
One of the areas we, at Catch22, feel very strongly about is green skills. As we say in our Manifesto, we want to see the next government commit to ensuring the UK is a true skills hub, identifying the skills required for jobs of the future and equipping the workforce to meet those needs. Specifically, in our Manifesto, we are asking the government to increase the number of green skills training courses and amend more courses to be green, such as lifetime skills, boot camps and apprenticeships.
With me today, I have Jeevun Sandher, Hi Jeevun.
Jeevun Sandher: Hiya.
Stella Tsantekidou: He is Head of Economics at the New Economics Foundation. Jeevun, why don’t you introduce yourself to the podcast.
Jeevun Sandher: Sure. So, yeah, I’m Head of Economics at NEF as Stella has mentioned. I used to work at the Treasury and I’m also, as well, the Labour parliamentary candidate for Loughborough.
Stella Tsantekidou: Amazing. And, with that background and expertise, could you tell me Jeevun, do you think green skills are important?
Jeevun Sandher: Ah, the first thing is obviously like… look, to get to net zero, you have to have green skills, and we have to get to net zero, right? We know we’re facing, like, the largest physical transformation in our economies in the modern era, if not in all of human history. We know that we have about a decade to start getting that really in process, so we get down by 2050 to not emitting carbon emissions… and we have to do that for like, you know, a couple of main reasons.
The first of which is, as we’ve seen today, as we’ve looked around in the previous or the recent cost of living crisis, it is energy security. We are dependent upon fossil fuels being sold by murderous dictators abroad (obviously, at the moment, Vladimir Putin), rather than homegrown super-abundant renewables that we have. If you want to address that, you have to invest to get to net zero. To do that, you need to have the skills in place to do so.
Leading on from that, we have the highest energy bills in the G7; the highest inflation of the G7. Why? Because we’re dependant on those fossil fuels. So again, if you want to get your bills down, which, by the way, you know you have more money in your pocket, that’s not just good for you and me. ‘Cause actually, like, I quite like having a bit of extra cash. But it’s good for the economy, right? It’s good for the fact that you’re spending money down the shops instead of on energy bills, that means more money in their pocket. It means more economic growth, better jobs.
In the future as well, as we look across the world, especially as we look across the Atlantic, what do we see? We see Biden-nomics. We’re seeing huge increases in the number of green jobs. Huge increases in manufacturing. The United States has the strongest economic performance coming out of COVID because they’re investing in that green transition, and investing in that green transition getting jobs – better jobs. Green jobs is absolutely key.
And, as we’ll come on to, because green jobs have higher skills, it does mean more productivity. It means you’re making more with what you have. It means that everyone’s getting richer. So absolutely, to put an opportunity.
And finally, and of course, like, the key thing here is the planet. It is saving the planet. It is saving future generations. What we’re doing, the things that we seek to do, are not here just for us today. Although, of course, they are important here today. You know, 3000 people died in last year’s heat wave in the UK, for example. We looked across, you know, Stella, of course, we’ve seen the wildfires in Greece. We’re seeing the absolute kind of damage to not just property, but people’s lives, right? That’s not just true today. That is true for all of humankind. That is true for every child yet to be born. So absolutely, that’s the way to get to net zero. To do that, you need to get green skills in order to deliver.
Stella Tsantekidou: Could you connect it for me, because you are making a very good case for why having a more green economy is very important, and you’re very making a very good case for net zero and why commitment to net zero is important. Could you connect that to how green skills – obviously green skills and green jobs are connected to this, but how are we prevented from reaching that future that you are describing because of the lack of green skills?
Jeevun Sandher: In order to get to net zero, for example, the three things we really need to do to get to net zero is to decarbonise our buildings, our transport and energy supply. Those are things that we really need to do.
Now, in the last kind of our story, right now in the UK, in terms of reducing climate emissions, has really been about energy supply. We’ve increased the number of renewables, but of course not by enough. Now there is work to be done there and transform with the grid, but the next bit which is, like, decarbonising buildings – so insulating 19,000,000 homes because we have the worst insulated homes in Western Europe.
The role in kind of decarbonising our transport system as well. That just takes a lot of people: a lot of people to actually transform and lead that physical transformation. To lead that physical transformation, they need the skills to be able to do so, right?
So, the Climate Change Committee thinks about 725,000 new jobs will be created in the transition to net zero. Those 725,000 thousand people are going to need training. They’re going to need to know how to do this. They’re going to need to have the skills to insulate the number of homes that we need to insulate. They’re going to need the skills to transform kind of diesel train tracks to those that runs on electric. They’re going to need to do all those things, but they need the skills to do so.
And that’s the real key. The big… the big kind of, if you like, the big-ticket items: the ones you absolutely have to do to get there. It’s about 250,000 jobs in retrofitting homes and retrofitting buildings, about 95,000 energy supply, about 140,000 in public transport… like you need to train those people to deliver that transition.
Stella Tsantekidou: Mm-hmm. What I am thinking as, as I hear you describe, this transition is that it can be a risky endeavour for any politician because they may be… there is always the risk that you basically want to transition to a clean economy, you want to change the jobs of a lot of people. There is the risk that a lot of people will be losing their jobs and they don’t necessarily have the skills to immediately change careers and they don’t necessarily also have the security and the reassurance that the jobs that they will be transitioning into will be just as secure – just as profitable.
And they will not, basically… They will be training because, obviously, for anyone to do training, this training may be free and may be available to them, which is not currently the case for everyone. It’s not currently so easy to get the right clean green skills training, but for a lot of people they may be thinking, ‘Why would I waste time that I could be using to work and make a profit to train for a job that I’m not sure is going to be there?’ So, there is a point where people need to be sure that we are in this for the long haul.
Which brings me to ask, Jeevun, what you think is the impact of the government not committing to net zero for the long term, and as quickly as we would like to see them to commit?
Jeevun Sandher: Yeah, I think you’ve seen, uh… Look, when you speak to businesses like you, you got it on the head, right, like – people have to know they’re training for a job that’s going to exist. And businesses also need to know that they’re going to provide skills for demand that’s going to be there. And, actually, to kind of get this right, you need to have both the kind of demand and supply in place. S,o you need to have like the demand for green jobs and the supply then of people to actually do them.
The problem over the past week or so (and I should say, we’re recording on Monday, so about five days after Rishi Sunak rolled back on a whole set of recommitments) is that really, for businesses and people, they’re once again plunged to uncertainty and, once again, they therefore aren’t going to make – or are much more reluctant to make – the investments needed to get to net zero.
You know, banning new oil and petrol cars, for example. I mean, the point was that, at the moment, car companies go, ‘Right, we have to transition to electric or hydrogen, which we will, I think, probably need for larger vehicles.’ They go, ‘Right, we need to do that. We need to make this many cars a year. We need to train this many people.’ When the government all of a sudden says, ‘No, no, no. Don’t worry about it,’ all of a sudden that means that people and businesses are less willing to invest in it, because they go, ‘Well, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.’
Similarly, for things like filling stations, for example, again, these investments that are not happening and so, really the rollback of the problem is that people can’t make those decisions and you have to invest a lot of money very quickly to get to net zero. Huge amount coming from the private sector, but the majority would come from the private sector. To do so, they need to… the returns are going to be there. And if you don’t know that, because the government keeps changing their mind, then you start to become a lot more uncertain and you start investing less.
More broadly, we’ve had low investment rates and so it just kind of makes it much more difficult… much harder, which means we’re not going to get there in time.
Stella Tsantekidou: Do you think the private sector is convinced? Do you think the private sector would be in this for the long haul, and they would be ramping up the efforts, basically, if they… if they felt more confident that politicians would back them up with similar government plans?
Jeevun Sandher: I think they are a lot less secure than they were. I think there’s always been a sense of tenuousness. simply because you know, we’ve had such, kind of, trauma and upheaval in the British political system. You know, since 2015, we’ve had more Conservative Prime Ministers than onshore wind farms. Like, that’s where we are and… and that level of instability has made it hard for private sector firms to invest. And last week’s announcement makes it even more difficult.
When you speak to businesses on the ground, the one thing they say is we really want stability. And when you speak to, kind of, and you get feedback from British Chambers of Commerce, for example, they go, ‘There is no plan.’ There just is no plan to get to net zero. There’s just this idea of like, ‘Let’s do it’, but there isn’t a concrete kind of path through. And we’ve seen the latest Climate Change Committee reports: we are going to be off track and we need to drastically move in order to get there.
Stella Tsantekidou: So this is the challenge at the higher level, right? This is the decision that need to be taken at the higher level.
But if I bring it down a bit to the way that the green economy and green skills affect people’s day-to-day life and their job prospects. I see this a lot when politicians speak about green jobs: they are always trying to make the point that they’re talking about good jobs, not just any jobs. They’re talking about jobs that people can make a good living out of: that they can increase their skills, which are secure, and that will lead them to long term careers.
And there is a problem there, because it’s not necessarily that the green jobs that are available right now are always better paid than the jobs in other industries. And very often, when you actually look at the data more closely, when you look at green jobs that are paid very well… the job – the green jobs – that are paid very well are, usually, the kind of jobs that will be paid very well in any other industry.
So, for example, green finance jobs are very well paid. But finance jobs are very well paid more generally. Whereas an engineer, for example, who works in an oil rig in the US is not going to necessarily be paid better if they had the equivalent of that in the green industry.
So, what ways can we – in what way can we invest in entry-level green jobs to make them better and to make them… to make more of them, as well? Because, at the moment, it’s not always the case that these jobs exist and that these training opportunities, as well, exist.
Jeevun Sandher: Yeah. So, let’s… let’s think about the green transformation. I think this is really helpful. You know, firstly, to get to this point, the green transformation has been more about innovation than transformation in that regard. Like, it’s been about making much cheaper solar panels, much cheaper wind farms. We’re now at the stage where everything that we do in the physical world, you know, has to now, kind of, go towards a zero carbon direction.
In terms of the jobs of what we’re thinking about here… the, just, the real question is – instead of, let’s say, working in a bar or a supermarket, which is, like, you know, you could kind of get trained up within a day or so, or a couple. Instead of that, actually, if you are retrofitting homes, you need a lot more training and that more training will then come to measure it with a higher salary, which is what we see. And so, because the jobs that we’re talking about do require skills, and especially it will be – retrofit will be the big one of that, like quarter of a million – those jobs require high skills and therefore lead to higher pay, and that’s what… that’s what we need to see, right, and that’s what we should be seeing at this point in time.
And really to get there, you know, the government needs to both have a plan and a mechanism to do so. Saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do: we’re going to insulate those 90 million homes, we’re going to decarbonise the entire electric system, we’re going to transform the National Grid, these are people that we need to do it, okay?’ You know who’s available to kind of get trained up to do so, and then we could talk a bit more about the mechanisms to get there. But that is the key. You know, what’s happened previously in green jobs is not what’s going to be the next transformation in the next few decades to come.
Stella Tsantekidou: What are some of the things that we need to… that the government should look to be doing right now, and how should the industry be responding, as well?
Jeevun Sandher: The main thing is… is actually for the government to sit down with the actual unions as well as businesses, and to say ‘Right, what is it we need to do?” and work it back. And ‘What’s the kind of training that you need and require?’
At the moment there just isn’t that, you know. The government is not talking effectively to unions and businesses to design these courses, right? They’re not saying, ‘Right, what skills do you need? What sections of government are going to fill in? What section is the private sector going to fill in? Okay, this is how we need to train.” For example, further education colleges, which have seen huge, huge numbers of cuts over the past decade. Like, that’s the first thing right? Actually have that social partnership figure out there. And we talked about good jobs, like, that’s why you also get unions involved because you don’t want people entering a career and then leaving it very, very fast. You know, you want to have some certitude around.
There’s also some other things that are a lot more… slightly more specific. Basically, the apprenticeship levy, as things stand, is massively under spent. I think £1.5 billion a year. Basically, the apprenticeship levy only allows quite long courses. You need to break that up and land modular courses – like shorter-term training systems that businesses can actually use that. And finally, we really need to have ensured there’s more devolution of budgets.
You know, I used to work at the Treasury. It’s always bonkers that, like, you know… a couple of hundred civil servants are deciding how to spend £600 billion of central government funding. It’s bonkers. There’s no way I, and Westminster, knew what the skills requirements of people in Loughborough is going to be, and therefore how much money to allocate. Like, you should be devolving. So, that’s what you really see… like, a proper plan / work of business that you use to think about the training that you need – proper devolution or some, like, reform of the apprenticeship levy: to get the funding in place, like, that’s what we need to see.
Stella Tsantekidou: Do you think voters care about green skills? Do you think it’s something that is, obviously… The problems that we hear about the most when you’re doing voxpops is the cost of living crisis, the NHS, immigration – things like that.
Green skills… It sounds to me, from listening to you, you’ve already explained to me why green skills are so important for the economy and why the green economy is very important for our day-to-day lives. For example, with energy costs skyrocketing, it makes perfect sense that voters should care.
But I’m wondering, do they make… do people make the connection between green skills and all of these good things that we could be having in our day-to-day lives?
Jeevun Sandher: I don’t think that… I think people do realise the challenge before us, the need to get there. I think the thing that is, like, taking on the other side of my job, if you like, you know, as the economist or as a politician… like, one thing we need to do is communicate the idea that greener is cheaper and, actually, what is very obvious to me, and I’ve only started to realise this lately, is that, actually, it’s not yet kind of fed through the public conversation. You know, we haven’t seen people saying ‘By the way, what we need to do is, you know, get to insulated homes, get to the net zero and therefore our bills are going to be lower, like those are the things that need to be done next.’ And that’s the connection that needs to be made.
So, how we get there and then part of that of course is, like, the transformation that we need and the fact that it does mean better jobs. So, I don’t think we have quite got there yet, and I think the communication does definitely need to be better.
Stella Tsantekidou: What do you think politicians should be doing to communicate that better?
And also, I mean, you’ve already mentioned some very important things, for example by making these things feel more secure in their long-term plans, the government would make sure that there would be more green jobs: there would be more investment in green skills. But, do you think there is something that the government should be doing to communicate to the public why green skills deserves to be higher on the political agenda?
Jeevun Sandher: Yeah, I think it’s twofold, right? And I don’t think this current government is going to do it, because I think they see a dividing line, and the dividing line they see is, you know – we’re going to be, like, hinting at the anti-green stuff to try and win votes, right? And you can see the connection that they’re trying to make. That the courts are trying to make as well. It’s a really nice idea. But, you know, we really… it’s not… it’s not sensible. Actually, a responsible thing to do, of course, is for us to get bills down today, and to get to the green transition in the future… like, that’s the responsible thing to do.
In terms of what, like, therefore, on politics – I don’t think it’s going to come from the government, I think it is going to come from the opposition – is to say to people, ‘Yes, this is about an opportunity that we should be, you know, clinging on to in the same way that we’re seeing across the United States,’ but really connect it to people’s lives. What is it going to mean to you? You know, the skills that are going to be available to you, the jobs that are going to be available to you. I think that’s the thing.
And, also, finally, it is about green skills, but also not just about green skills. Like, there are going to be lots of, you know, jobs that are going to be in education that will be supporting the transition that won’t immediately be obvious that they are green. So, that’s something that I think we need to do as well.
Stella Tsantekidou: I have a final question for you Jeevun, and it’s a bit of a wild card question, so in terms of –
Jeevun Sandher: Love it.
Stella Tsantekidou: At Catch22, we believe inclusion and diversity is extremely important and it is something that we try to weave into all of our hubs – all of our services. And, environmental jobs at the moment, they are about 97% white people who work in environmental jobs.
What can we do to make green jobs more diverse? What can we do to open them up, so that it’s not just people in the know who get these jobs and who dominate the industry, but it is basically a part of the wider economy and everyone can benefit from them, and everyone can benefit from green skills, and everyone can have access to these sustainable careers?
Jeevun Sandher: Well, look, I’m a British Indian, right? I’m not so sure that we want to have… I think the thing you want to do is make attractive jobs that everyone can apply for and get, right? And if you have attractive jobs that people want to get, then you should see those numbers start to level up.
But I haven’t seen anything that would suggest it’s like the consequence of direct discrimination. And so, I wouldn’t necessarily sit there and look at that number and say, ‘Well clearly there is, you know, something going horrendously wrong.’ I would say, ‘Okay, are there reasons that people from particular backgrounds might face barriers?’ And maybe, one of the barriers, is that that it’s not seen as a, you know, a traditional career path in the same way that, like, colloquially being a lawyer and a doctor used to be. So maybe it’s just that, right?
Stella Tsantekidou: Very interesting. I agree with you, and I also do not want to just assume that, because they are the way they are, that there is something untoward going on here.
But I think it is important for us, as we are talking about green skills and how do you get more people to get these jobs, is to make sure that we get it right from the beginning and to see, as you say, what are the barriers. Are there any barriers?
Jeevun Sandher: Yeah. And I suspect it’s been… I suspect it’s been kind of the legacy of what people have chosen. But look, you know, create good careers and people will want their kids and want to do those jobs. So, like, let’s figure it out.
Stella Tsantekidou: Yeah, amazing. Jeevun Sandher, thank you very much for joining me.
Jeevun Sandher: Thank you very much for having me. Hope you all have a great day.