Majority of environmental professionals fear green skills gap

4th July 2024

Almost three-fifths of UK environmental professionals feel there is a green skills gap across the country’s workforce, or that there will be, a new survey has uncovered.

The poll of 1,498 professionals working in the environmental services sector found that 58% believe businesses are unprepared for the transition to a sustainable economy.

A quarter of respondents indicated a high demand for skills in waste management and the circular economy, while one in 10 said that there is a lack of expertise in resilience building and developing strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Other shortages lie in sustainability and environmental management, carbon management and offsetting, and environmental law and policy, cited by 11%, 8% and 8%, respectively.

Indeed, when asked what challenges they foresee in measuring and achieving biodiversity net gain, the most cited answer was a lack of knowledge and skills.

Rob Mowat, managing director of ESS Expo, which published the National Environmental Services Survey, said it's "abundantly clear" there is a green skills gap in the UK.

“This lack of preparedness could potentially hinder the UK's ability to achieve its ambitious environmental targets and capitalise on the economic opportunities presented by the transition to a net-zero economy,” he continued.

“It's crucial for businesses to invest in initiatives that bridge this gap, such as upskilling training programmes, nurturing apprenticeship schemes in green sectors, and fostering collaboration with educational institutions.”

Although more individuals were hired in roles such as chief sustainability officer in 2021 than in the previous five years combined, the findings suggest that businesses are still struggling to find qualified candidates to fill these newly emerging positions.

The research also touched on the path to net-zero emissions, with a staggering 99.7% of respondents agreeing that technology has a role to play in accelerating the path towards carbon neutrality.

Online learning platforms can deliver specialised green training skills to a wider audience, while virtual reality simulations can provide immersive training experiences for complex green technologies.

The researchers also said that artificial intelligence (AI) could be used to personalise learning pathways and identify skill gaps within a workforce.

Speaking about the resources and waste management sector, Dr Adam Read, chief external affairs and sustainability officer at SUEZ, commented: "Key skills in demand lie in technology, design, AI, communications, engineering, policy implementation, regulation, and data analysis, plus of course in recycling, reuse, repair, upcycling, and refurbishment.

“Although the sector is feeling both policy and skills demand uncertainty right now, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

"Together, if we work hard, we can make huge strides in our sector’s transformation and reinvention, delivering exciting new skilled jobs that underpin the fight against climate change.”

IEMA offers a range of online training and resources for sustainability professionals, while its Green Careers Hub can help all workers understand where they fit into the green economy of the future.

Image credit: Shutterstock


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