The perception that the chemicals industry is not central to achieving net zero targets will affect companies’ ability to recruit skilled staff, according to a new report.
Published by Cogent Skills, the report – A greenprint on skills for the low carbon industries – reveals this perception as a “consistent theme” during industry workshops*. And the extent of the talent and skills challenge already affecting the sector is shown by the 48 per cent drop in new apprenticeships since 2015-161.
The report highlights how critical the chemicals industry remains to the UK economy, contributing more than £30bn of Gross Value Added (GVA) and employing 145,000 people – not to mention the sector’s role in helping the UK reach net zero through underpinning low carbon industries such as hydrogen, batteries and synthetic fuels.
However, the way chemical companies transition – either by modifying existing products or expanding their operations to include low-carbon technologies – will affect skills demands: while the former requires some adjustments in quality control to meet different standards (such as creating novel chemicals for hydrogen storage), introducing new activities will require greater upskilling and retraining (for example, chemical companies developing battery chemicals).
Justine Fosh, Chief Executive Officer at Cogent Skills – the UK’s leading strategic skills body for the science and technology sector – said: “Established industries such as chemicals must attract a workforce which can maintain operational resilience while advancing strategies for long-term sustainability.”
Additional research conducted by Cogent Skills with the Chemical Industries Association2 points to the need for employees operating chemical plants to adopt different equipment or software in any transition, though the roles and required skills would remain fundamentally the same. However, the shift to sustainable, low carbon technologies would involve new and more strategic engineering jobs.
Steve Elliott, Chief Executive of the Chemical Industries Association, said: “Net zero for our country and our planet will only be reached and then sustained through the efforts of people in the chemical sector. This highly-skilled workforce is already driving the transition – we need to ensure there are people who want, and are able, to be the chemical industry’s workforce of the future. This report enables a new understanding of how critical the supply of skilled people is and I look forward to seeing the implementation of its recommendations.”
Cogent Skills’ report provides high-priority recommendations for the future workforce in chemicals which includes:
Promoting careers outreach programmes to educate and inspire young people to enter the sector.
Raising awareness of the sector’s importance in securing net zero.
Undertaking research to understand equality, diversity and inclusion in the workforce and identify best practices.
Fosh added: “This report is the start of a conversation around the specific skills to drive growth across a range of emerging, low-carbon industries. However, with uncertainty about the skills required and their availability, industry must collaborate and forge partnerships to understand the skills requirement and develop a strategy to deliver the talent needed for green transition and growth.
“Unless industry can access the next generation of talent – including engineers, scientists, technicians and operators – any plan for a just transition will fall short. That means harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of younger people to tackle the climate crisis by showing how science and technology is a route to making meaningful change, as well as a rewarding career. And this includes creating diverse apprenticeship standards that will reflect today’s technologies and industry needs.”
Among a range of actions, Cogent Skills will be conducting research and mapping courses currently available to upskill and reskill the existing workforce.
To read the full recommendations for skills and talent development in the chemicals sector read the full report here (or for a shorter summary, click here).
*The report is based on a range of comprehensive research, including insights from workshops with 40 industry experts in more than 25 organisations across the sector.
1 WorldSkills UK & Learning and Work Institute: Skills for a net zero economy: insights from employers and young people, 2022.
2 Chemical Industries Association & Cogent Skills: Future Skills for the Chemical Industries, 2022.
Notes to editors:
About Cogent Skills
Cogent Skills is the UK’s leading strategic body for skills in the science and technology sector: a not-for-profit enterprise dedicated to supporting the skills needs and ambitions of employers and their employees. Sector-based, Cogent Skills works with companies embracing life sciences, industrial sciences and nuclear.