BLOG: Skilling up for Net Zero

Professor Joe Howe, Chair of the North West Hydrogen Alliance and Executive Director of the Energy Research Institute at the University of Chester talks about the role of apprentices in reaching Net Zero.

There has been a lot of focus on Net Zero recently, whether it’s as part of the green recovery, Ten Point Plan, Sixth Carbon Budget, or levelling up agenda. But while there has been a lot of emphasis on technology and policy, it can be easy to forget about the workforce needed to ensure Net Zero happens.

Worryingly, a survey released this week by the Institution of Engineering and Technology found that 93% of UK engineering companies don’t have the skills they need to reach Net Zero by 2050.

This is one of the reasons I am embracing National Apprenticeship Week. This is the first National Apprenticeship Week since the Chancellor announced £2.5 billion will be spent on apprenticeships in the coming years. This applies to young people and the existing workforce, and some of the funding has been set aside for technical skills which will be desperately needed if we’re to make the hydrogen economy a reality in the North West and become world leaders in the technology.

As a trustee of the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, it’s important that we celebrate all routes into a career. University isn’t the only path open to people, and we need to find ways to encourage people to develop the skills we desperately need to reach Net Zero. Key to this will be matching the development of education and training programs with the skills employers actually require, and this is where apprenticeships can really help.

The Government’s Skills for Jobs White Paper released in January aims to do this by committing £12 billion to post-16 education and training. At the North West Hydrogen Alliance, we’re really excited by the other reforms set out in the paper. It is aiming to provide the skills employers need through College Business Centres and Skills Boot Camps. I would love to see a HyNet North West College Business Centre to ensure we have a workforce in the North West with the skills to deliver this leading hydrogen and carbon capture project, rather than having to import them in.

While there is a perception that people need to go to the South East to find a job, we’d like to change this assumption. There is great demand for skilled workers in the North West, and with our ambition to become one of the first two Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) clusters by 2025, this demand is only going to grow. As an area with a strong industrial heritage, world leading academic institutions and an existing skilled workforce we have the opportunity to lead the net zero skills agenda for the rest of the UK and beyond.