The Government must earmark £10 billion for 250,000 green apprenticeships over the next three years to minimise the long-term economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic, an environmental group says.
Ahead of Wednesday’s budget, Friends of the Earth said subsidising the apprenticeships would help meet the Government’s net zero by 2050 goals while staving off disastrous long-term youth unemployment.
Research commissioned by the charity with funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery found there are currently 500,000 16 to 24-year-olds out of work which could rise to one million by summer when the furlough scheme comes to an end.
According to modelling conducted by consultancy Transition Economics, one year’s unemployment for someone aged 18 to 20 could see them lose between £42,000 and £133,000 in earnings over the next 20 years.
If all those aged 16 to 24 currently without work remained unemployed for 12 months, it could lead to £32 billion to £39 billion in lost wages across the UK over the next two decades, the research found.
Friends of the Earth argues the £6.2 billion to £10.6 billion it estimates would be needed to subsidise wages and training for 250,000 green apprenticeships is “tiny in comparison”.
The charity is calling for a network of “Centres of Excellence for Zero Carbon Skills” to be set up at further education colleges across the UK.
In addition, it wants to see bursaries of £1,500 to promote participation among black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, women and disabled people.
It said retrofitting the UK’S existing 28 million homes and building new green homes, upgrading transport infrastructure and reforestation could create one million new jobs in the next two years.
There is also a skills gap as the UK shifts to electric vehicles and expands renewable power, including both a lack of graduate-level engineers and installation technicians, the report found.
The research found that to reach zero emissions from home heating via technology such as heat pumps, the UK needs a skilled workforce of 70,000 that does not yet exist.
Friends of the Earth is also calling for apprenticeships for jobs in environmental restoration to meet the target of protecting 30% of the UK’s land by 2030.
It pointed out that as well as ecologists, the UK has a very limited base of horticultural tradespeople needed to cultivate native species for peatland and seagrass meadow restoration.
A much more diverse skill-set is also needed in the agricultural sector to reduce its carbon footprint, Friends of the Earth said.
It said major updates will be needed to water infrastructure, flood defences, ports and broadband to meet the challenges posed by climate change and the changing needs of the population.
The charity said alongside the apprenticeships, a £40 billion-a-year green infrastructure programme would help create millions of jobs, as well as delivering healthier air, better quality homes – saving the NHS billions in the future.
Denis Fernando, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “There’s a serious risk that this country is going to leave its young people to a future devastated by the climate crisis and unemployment. But it’s not too late to turn this around.
“Investing in green apprenticeships in areas such as renewable energy and woodland creation could prevent a new wave of youth unemployment, while helping the UK towards a more climate-friendly future.”
Laura Chow, head of charities at the People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “Players of People’s Postcode Lottery have supported this research as part of our Postcode Climate Challenge initiative, which is supporting 12 charities with an additional £24 million for projects tackling climate change this year.
“Ending youth unemployment while fighting climate change offers a worthwhile solution to tackling two of the key issues we face.”
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street has said investment in training for future industries will be the best way to deliver on the Government’s national “levelling up” agenda in the wake of the pandemic.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophie Ridge On Sunday, Mr Street said his region’s economy had been decimated by the pandemic, but that growth was still possible.
He said: “Let’s really concentrate on the people who have lost their job and get them ready for the industries of the future – in our case the electric vehicle industry is critical, and of course the digital sector.”