Department of Energy and Climate Change

`Your green economy needs you` - article by Greg Barker in Business Green


Whether Britain succeeds in stealing a march in the global low carbon race will depend in part on the skills, enthusiasm and experience of our workforce.

From building, installing and designing the new energy infrastructure of the future, Britain's green economy will need a massive injection of skills which could amount to a new 'low carbon army'.

And the role played by the next generation of apprentices will be central to our success.

So as national apprenticeship week kicks off, there's no better time for me to fly the flag for the massive opportunities presented by the low carbon economy to the apprentices of the future.

A low carbon apprenticeship will provide a great avenue into some high skilled, high value careers. And the evidence is that we're going to need more highly trained individuals to help us make inroads into the green economy.

If my job's about one thing, it's making sure that Britain doesn't miss a trick in making the transition to a low carbon economy. And not missing a trick means getting our best people stuck into the task.

The role of apprenticeships should be seen as crucial in that transition - by employers and by future workers.

The number of apprentices are growing - with twice as many last year in England compared with ten years previously. That's 300,000 who started an apprenticeship in 2010.

The Government's Green Deal is one area where there will be huge opportunities. The Green Deal is the Government's answer to the energy leakage that's currently inflicting Britain's homes and businesses.

It's the biggest shake-up in the history of energy efficiency and will be more ambitious than anything that's ever been tried before. It will reduce energy wastage and save people and business money.

It will also be a bigger national drive than putting on the London Olympics. Just as the Games are closing in 2012, we will be kick-starting an energy efficiency overhaul of homes and businesses across the country.

Crucially, the Green Deal will be great for jobs.

Were all 26 million households to take up the Green Deal over the next 20 years, employment in the sector would rise from its current level of 27,000 to something approaching 250,000, working all around the country to make our housing stock fit for a low carbon world. Insulation installers and others in the retrofit supply chain all stand to benefit from this long overdue energy efficiency makeover.

But it's important that the insulation and construction industry prepare their workforces with the appropriately skilled people to provide the quality installations and services the Green Deal will demand. And that's where apprentices come in.

Apprenticeships can provide real business benefits for employers by bringing productive, enthusiastic and loyal people into the business.

In my own Bexhill constituency at Torr Scientific I have seen at firsthand how vital apprentices can be in driving forward business.

The coalition Government wants to work with business to deliver up to 400,000 apprentices across the economy by 2014. The budget for apprenticeships will increase to over £1.4 billion in 2011-12 alone.

The Insulated and Render Cladding Association is already getting involved with its own apprenticeship scheme. And I'm sure there'll be many more opportunities in this growing industry over the coming months and years for apprenticeships. Employers will be mad to ignore this opportunity.

But it's not just in the insulation industry that apprentices are getting a foot hold and where big opportunities are materialising.

It's happening across the low carbon economy:

  • A hundred young people are taking part in the community apprenticeship scheme run by the National Skills Academy for Nuclear;
  • EDF Energy took on 80 apprentices last year;
  • British Gas are looking for 500 new engineer apprentices this year;
  • And a modern apprenticeship in wind turbine operation and maintenance is making sure we have the skills in this fast moving industry.

In my own Department we have six apprentices working across a range of areas, making a really valuable contribution to the work of DECC.

But the issue of apprenticeships can't just be left to an annual week of celebration.

Now's the time to make sure we secure our future green economy - and that means giving proper recognition to the skills and contribution that apprenticeships can bring to the low carbon economy.

Greg Barker

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