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Students empowered by brighter prospects

Professor Dave Reay is Chair in Carbon Management and Education Executive Director at the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute at the University of Edinburgh. He is also the Chair of the Steering Group driving forward Scotland’s Climate Emergency Skills Action plan. Article originally published in The Herald.

Even before Covid-19 cast a shadow across all our lives, the Scottish Government and stakeholders across Scotland had identified green skills as a cornerstone of delivering a resilient and fair transition to net zero. 

As part of this, and in the context of needing to realise a green recovery from the pandemic, the Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan was published at the end of 2020 alongside an update to Scotland’s overall Climate Change Plan. The year or so since the publication of the action plan has made even more apparent the imperative of getting green skills and jobs provision right for all.

In that time a steering group has formed to guide the implementation of the plan. It has to be one the largest and most engaged groups it has ever been my privilege to work with – drawing on organisations, businesses and agencies from right across Scotland who are already driving forward skills strategy and enhanced provision in their own sectors and areas.  The real power of this broad and deep group is the ability to avoid duplication, work collaboratively, and to inform a strategic green skills approach for Scotland that puts people and place at its heart. Already, working groups have coalesced that are providing the more granular view of what is being done and, most importantly, what needs done within specific sectors of our economy

More widely, the education system that underpins green career pathways for everyone in Scotland is being overtly integrated into plans and actions.

 The first stage of the Green Jobs Workforce Academy is now up and running; providing a place to access training, learn new skills and look for a job. Ensuring net zero-aligned learning provision at all levels is a priority area for implementation of the Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan over the coming years. 

Many of our universities and colleges, for instance, are now working with employers, schools and other stakeholders to design new and updated courses that better meet fast-changing workforce demands. 

The Green Skills Academy at Dumfries & Galloway College is a great example of this; their suite of green energy courses – ranging from full time study to apprenticeship and school-level learning – making these crucial green skills more accessible than ever.

In Scotland’s colleges we have the local, regional and national hubs for training that can deliver the dynamic, place-based provision of green skills that is now so urgently required. Likewise, the university sector in Scotland has huge potential, and huge responsibility, to realise a resilient and fair transition to net zero. 

With world-leading academics, research and innovation, there’s the vital role they play in informing robust climate action and developing new technologies to cut emissions. 

More importantly, they together train and educate hundreds of thousands of students each year who will go on to face up to climate change right around the world, including here in Scotland. Ensuring every graduate in Scotland is equipped with the knowledge and skills they need for life and work in the climate emergency must be a core part of higher education’s remit. It would be easy to say that ‘everything is a priority’ for the green skills agenda and the implementation of the action plan over the coming year. 

There are already acute skills and workforce shortages in many sectors, and the required transformation of learning provision in our schools, colleges and universities is still behind the warming curve in many respects.  Ultimately though, any number of new climate-ready courses or green jobs is worthless without the people to do them. 

A combination of factors including demographics, worker mobility and deep-seated inequalities threatens to hobble Scotland’s economic recovery from Covid-19 and our progress towards net zero. Addressing societal barriers to training provision and job opportunities, championing diversity and inclusion in every sector, and ensuring a truly just transition for the existing workforce are therefore paramount.

The Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan and its implementation are just one part of meeting such nation-wide challenges but, if the passion, dedication and expertise of those involved to date are anything to go by, it will help lead the way for the whole of Scotland and for generations to come.

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