Lancaster University: Skills shortages threaten Lancashire’s low carbon businesses

Skills shortages in Lancashire’s low carbon businesses are limiting growth and will hold the county back from reaching its net-zero ambitions, according to new research by the Work Foundation.

The study is based on widespread engagement with Lancashire businesses at the forefront of the county’s drive to net zero, featuring a survey of 53 low carbon businesses operating in Lancashire, alongside in-depth interviews with business leaders working across the sector.

Nearly half of surveyed businesses (47%) reported that they are finding it difficult to recruit staff with the skills they need, and almost a third are finding it hard recruiting employees with specialist skills.

These challenges are causing many organisations to turn to in-house training to plug recruitment gaps. 81 per cent of businesses surveyed said they deliver their own in-house training with the most common reason for this being skills needs that can’t be met by external providers.

The study also highlights how these skills gaps are preventing low carbon businesses in the county from reaching their full potential, with firms reporting increased workloads, rising operational costs and delays to the development of new products and services – all caused by recruitment difficulties.

Trinley Walker, Policy Advisor at the Work Foundation, said: “With Government firmly committed to net-zero by 2050, Lancashire will be under the spotlight as home to a vibrant industry that can support the UK’s ambitions for clean energy growth.

“However, if Lancashire is to deliver on its true capabilities, the needs of low carbon businesses must be at the very heart of co-developed skills provision.

“Attracting the right candidates is also a concern among local employers so exploring new ways to attract young people to the sector will be crucial, alongside building clear career pathways.”

The report reveals that only 36% of surveyed businesses engage with schools or colleges to promote the sector among young people locally, and only 9 of the 25 businesses who found hiring difficult currently engage with stakeholders in the skills system to shape the provision of local education and training.

“The fact that the sector is somewhat disengaged from the skills pipeline illustrates a clear gap but also presents an opportunity to shape training provision and nurture a local talent pool,” Trinley Walker continues. “To facilitate this, the local skills system should also work to anticipate and align with the workforce needs of low carbon businesses. The new approaches to employer engagement heralded by the recent FE White Paper are a positive step, but they must embed engagement with small businesses and start-ups in particular to enable this crucial sector to grow over the years ahead.”

Recommendations from the Work Foundation report also include:

Sector bodies (such as the Renewable Energy Association) should engage with businesses in the sector to get a true picture of skills needs. This will ensure smaller firms who lack the resource needed to engage with the skills system in traditional ways are heard, and feed into regional plans
Increase support for employees to transition into the low carbon sector from adjacent industry, so vital skills are re-shaped rather than lost
Businesses within the sector should work with education providers to excite and inspire young people to work within the low carbon sector, establishing clear pathways to employment
Increase entry level opportunities for employment within the sector
Sarah Kemp, Chief Executive of Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said: “As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, we want to ensure Lancashire is at the forefront of the energy and low carbon revolution. The potential scale of that opportunity for Lancashire – not just in terms of decarbonising but also in terms of manufacturing and exporting clean energy technologies, driving economic growth and job creation – is enormous. But we can only fulfill that potential if we have the right workforce with the right skills and training. We are therefore delighted that we have been able to collaborate with the Work Foundation to understand those skills challenges in more detail and identify potential solutions. It is clear that businesses are alreading adapting to find ways to ensure they have staff with the required skills. We now need to encourage government and education institutions to do more to ensure that Lancashire can fulfill its low carbon potential.”

The report, ‘Skills for Net-Zero in Lancashire: Building the low carbon workforce of the future’ is available to download here: https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/work-foundation/publications/skills-for-net-zero-in-lancashire

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