Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Can we leap the skills hurdles for the low carbon economy?

In order to create the low carbon, environmentally sound economy that is touted a way of getting the country out of the recession, tens of thousands of jobs are going to be needed in the environmental sectors of the economy.

But a skills gap in these sectors is well documented, with one in three firms being hampered by a shortage of skilled staff, from those needed to install new technology to scientists and engineers, according to a report by the Commission on Environmental Markets and Economic Performance.

The Environmental Audit Committee recommended two years ago that the Skills Funding Agency support training in this area and called for a leader to help "deliver green skills across all sectors".

This is slowly happening, with a number of academies opening specialising in part of this huge and varied area.

In a report issued earlier this month, Greening the Economy, the Aldersgate Group called on the government to "build on [this] national skills strategy to ensure that its support for skills and training matches the focus and ambition of its strategies for promoting investment in green innovation and infrastructure" and compared the situation here unfavourably with France’s mobilisation plan for green jobs.

In terms of manufacturing, the UK is unlikely to be cost competitive with emerging economies in many sectors and so must ensure that instead it builds on its vast experience and skills for higher value-added manufacturing activities and services.

It can cost such tradespeople upwards of £6000 to get suitable qualifications. If they want to go on to be a registered installer they have to register under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme which can cost many thousand pounds more.

Not surprisingly, many wonder if it's worth the hassle and cost in terms of the increase in income they can expect to receive.

In other words, is there a cost barrier to entering the low carbon economy?

Well, in one sector of this economy there is good news. A survey carried out by The ENDS Report in collaboration with the Chartered Institution of Water & Environmental Management (CIWEM) and the Society for the Environment (SocEnv) has revealed that gaining professional qualifications can lead to a direct increase in your salary.

The online survey, published in the March edition of the ENDS Report, of over 2,200 environmental practitioners revealed that half are Chartered Environmentalists (CEnv). Among those working in the water sector, half are CIWEM qualified.

Similarly, of those describing their main professional activity as 'engineering’, over 50% are Chartered Engineer (CEng) qualified.

SocEnv says that "as well as raising their status, gaining professional qualifications has also led to monetary reward for around 20% of a direct result of gaining additional professional qualifications".

Among those able to recall a percentage rise, almost half had enjoyed one of 10% or more. The median increase was 6% and half of rises were in the 5-10% range. One in seven enjoyed an increase of 20% or more, after gaining additional professional qualifications.

And despite many organisations facing tighter budgets, the level of employer support for professional development remains generally high.

Two-thirds of respondents said their organisation offered financial assistance for professional development and most have taken advantage of it; almost three in five said they had undertaken formal training in the past year.

Acting Chief Executive of SocEnv, Kerry Geldart, said “this particular finding from the ENDS survey reflects the importance employers and individuals place on professional registration, particularly in times of austerity, giving individuals a competitive edge in the market place.”

Rosemary Butler, Director or Membership & Professional Development at CIWEM agrees. "This is an extremely valuable piece of research," she said, "and bears out our findings that more and more applicants for CIWEM membership also seek the CEnv qualification to add real and tangible value to their career progression."

The Energy Saving Trust (in its 'Economics and Impact Model: Data and Assumptions', 2010) cite a multiplier of at least 1.93 for every £1 invested by local authorities in industries related to renewable energy, in terms of the benefit to the local economy. They say that farsighted councils can support local electricians and plumbers to access training courses that will qualify them to install renewable generators.

Hopefully, further research will bear out this success story in other sectors of the green economy. It means that, if true, there will not only be benefits for society as a whole, but individuals partaking in the green sector and those around them will benefit financially as well.

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