Press Releases

Average worker nine weeks short of training needed for low-carbon jobs of the future

Big skills divide throughout the country as people in the north-east need the most training to work in the green economy

The average UK worker will need nine weeks of full-time training in order to work in the low-carbon jobs of the future, according to a report from the New Economics Foundation (NEF), published today. The report found that, as the UK cuts its carbon emissions, its workforce currently lacks the skills needed to work in the vital green industries of the future.

The report found that across the country some regions are less prepared than others, with the biggest skills gap in the north-east of England. Workers in the north-east, on average, will need three months of full-time training to bring them up to the skill level required to work in low-carbon jobs, according to the report. Other regions which will struggle include the West Midlands and Merseyside.

NEF argues that shifting to a low-carbon economy means that new jobs will need to be created in green industries like wind farms or electric vehicles, and other sectors will be significantly affected by the shift, like manufacturing or agriculture. The report shows that the UK is currently unprepared to upskill the amount of people necessary to meet the needs of a low-carbon economy. Over the last decade, decreasing numbers of adults have undertaken adult education or skill training. Since 2010, public spending on adult education and apprenticeships has fallen by 38% and workers in low-skilled, low-paid jobs, precarious jobs including zero-hours contracts, and high-carbon jobs are the most at risk of being left behind.

The report finds significant regional disparities in the skills gap, with the widest gaps found in the north-east, the West Midlands and Merseyside, and the lower gaps in London and the south-east. Aside from inner London, all workers will need to undertake training in order to be able to perform green jobs.

In order to reach the average skill level required for green jobs, the length of time in full-time training required for the average worker, per region is as follows:

  • North-east (excluding Tyne and Wear): 13.5 weeks
  • West Midlands: 13.2 weeks
  • Merseyside: 13.2 weeks
  • South-east (excluding London): 6.4 weeks
  • Outer London: 2.3 weeks

The report argues that current government skills schemes like the apprenticeship levy and lifetime skills guarantee haven’t done enough to address the UK’s skills deficit in general, let alone adapt the workforce to the needs of a low-carbon economy. NEF recommend that the government create a new green skills pathway which would:

  • Create a Future Skills Scheme where any working adult facing redundancy or working in a company faced with a significant drop in business activity would be offered the option to be to upskill or retrain.
  • Reinstate and fund the Trades Union Congress’ Union Learning Fund, which was discontinued in 2021 having provided hundreds of thousands of workers with access to learning.
  • Devolve power over skills funding to a regional level to allow metro mayors and other regional leaders to determine appropriate skills strategies.

Chaitanya Kumar, head of environment and green transition at the New Economics Foundation (NEF), said:

As the US and the EU press on with a massive investment in their low-carbon industries and workers, the UK is getting left behind. The jobs of the future tend to require a higher skill level than what the average UK worker possesses – so supporting a skilled and diverse workforce should be a high priority for us. Adult education is vital but it cannot simply be left to employers to make the right decisions without a green industrial and skills strategy from our government.”


The New Economics Foundation is a charitable think tank who are wholly independent of political parties and committed to being transparent about how it is funded.

The report, Skills for a new economy, will be available at https://​newe​co​nom​ics​.org/​2​0​2​3​/​0​2​/​s​k​i​l​l​s​-​f​o​r​-​a​-​n​e​w​-​e​c​onomy from 00.01 Friday 24 February 2023

Figures for the skill gap in north-east England do not include the county of Tyne and Wear. Skills gap figures represent the average worker.

According to our analysis of ONS data, the average skill level for all jobs in the UK is 2.79. This means that the average worker in the UK is in a job below skill level 3. To analyse the average skill level of green vs non-green jobs, we have used an existing green jobs classification by the Greater London Authority (GLA). Based on that classification, our analysis suggests that the current average skill level for green jobs is 3.06 (meaning workers with jobs at a minimum of skill level 3), and 2.69 for non-green jobs. This implies that the average worker does not meet the current minimum skill level required for green jobs; they would require additional work-related training to access existing green jobs, either undertaken on the job or in an educational institution.

This skills gaps can be converted into equivalent qualification time’, ie, the commensurate amount of time spent in formal education required to lift an individual to the required skill level. To quantify this gap we used the government’s Total Qualification Time (TQT) metric, which assesses the total hours of independent study and classroom learning required to complete an RQF qualification. At the lower end (levels 1 – 3) of the RQF, each level typically requires 400 – 600 hours of TQT; between levels 4 and 7 this rises to 1,200 hours of TQT per level. The implication of this is that one year of full-time undergraduate study, which equates to one RQF level, takes 1,200 hours of TQT. This is equivalent to three terms of 11 weeks of active study each, as seen in a typical university year.

Details of NEF’s proposal for a Future Skills Scheme can be found in Upskilling Britain for a high-wage future (2021). https://​newe​co​nom​ics​.org/​2​0​2​1​/​1​0​/​u​p​s​k​i​l​l​i​n​g​-​b​r​i​t​a​i​n​-​f​o​r​-​a​-​h​i​g​h​-​w​a​g​e​-​f​uture

Faraday Institute. (2020). High energy battery technologies. Retrieved from https://​fara​day​.ac​.uk/​w​p​-​conte… High-Energy-battery-technologies-FINAL.pdf

Oswald, D., Taylor, S., Whittaker, D., Moore, L., Lee, T., Ward, M. & Hollowed, S. (2021). Building skills for net zero. https://​www​.citb​.co​.uk/​m​e​d​i​a​/​k​k​p​k​w​c​4​2​/​b​u​i​l​d​i​n​g​_​s​k​i​l​l​s​_​n​e​t​_​z​e​r​o​_​f​u​l​l​_​r​e​p​o​r​t.pdf

IFS (2022). Adult education: the past, present and future. https://​ifs​.org​.uk/​s​i​t​e​s​/​d​e​f​a​u​l​t​/​f​i​l​e​s​/​o​u​t​p​u​t​_​u​r​l​_​f​i​l​e​s​/​B​N​3​4​4​-​A​d​u​l​t​-​e​d​u​c​a​t​i​o​n​-​p​a​s​t​-​p​r​e​s​e​n​t​-​a​n​d​-​f​u​t​u​r​e.pdf

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