Upskilling the UK workforce for the 21st century


A more comprehensive focus on providing the right skills across key economic sectors will be essential for recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic

With the UK grappling with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic whilst being committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and reversing the decline of our natural environment, the case for a skills strategy and longer-term investment in upskilling the workforce are more relevant than ever. As the UK economy recovers, it will be important to ensure that workers are equipped with the skills necessary to get them back into meaningful employment as quickly as possible, and that those jobs are coherent with achieving government’s climate and environmental targets.

Addressing the skills challenge is a cross-governmental and cross-sector effort, with policies needed to set the direction, but also a significant role for education providers and employers. The first part of the challenge is the supply side, with a need to have the right skills available in the workforce to deliver our climate and environmental objectives. This means that education providers at all levels need to adapt the curricula in order to ensure that the skills and competencies of their students and graduates are aligned with the requirements of a net zero emissions economy.

While central government action is important, it will need to be backed up by concrete funding and institutional capacity to devolve powers and funding at the local level, in order to maximise the opportunities afforded by upskilling and reskilling programmes.

Employer demand for these skills will need to follow to match the uplift in supply, so that all sectors of the economy can begin the transition to a low carbon economy in earnest. For employers, this means mapping out the step change in practices and business models needed to achieve net zero emissions, as well as recruiting and training their workforce accordingly. For this, government should send a clear signal to employers by publishing a delivery plan in support of the net zero target, setting out the policy and regulatory framework that will enable all sectors of the economy to cut emissions. This should be developed alongside the updated Industrial Strategy, with strongercoordination between the policy decisions necessary to get to net zero and their social implications, including the levelling up challenge, the productivity puzzle and the skills deficit.