Sustainable apprenticeships: The growing demand for green skills

Header image for article: Sustainable apprenticeships: The growing demand for green skills

When the government published Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener in 2021, it identified green jobs, skills and industries as important ways to support the transition to net zero across the economy.

The government’s commitments to sustainability included reforming the skills system, so that training providers, employers and learners were “incentivised and equipped” to play their part in delivering the transition to net zero.

It also aimed to grow post-16 training programmes, such as apprenticeships, Skills Bootcamps and T-Levels, in line with the needs of employers in the green economy. This training would include training people at the start of their careers or retraining and upskilling people already in the workforce.

We’re almost two years on from this announcement, so what has changed so far and what can training providers do to support net zero goals?

The demand for green skills is growing

In 2018, there were an estimated 185,000 full-time workers in England’s low carbon and renewable energy economy. The industry is growing at pace, with the figure expected to rise to 694,000 in 2030, and over 1.18 million by 2050.

Investment in the low-carbon economy is creating exciting new job opportunities in areas like solar and wind power, electric transport, farming and horticulture, and green finance and innovation. If the UK is going to successfully transition to a green economy, apprenticeships and training programmes will be pivotal to developing the skills and knowledge needed.

Similarly, a growing number of employers have a strong social conscience and sense of environmental responsibility, and are increasingly factoring this into their corporate strategies. PwC’s report on the future of work found that 36% of HR professionals are building talent strategies around their organisations’ social and environmental conscience.

A large part of this is almost certainly in response to modern workers' preferences. Sustainability is a priority for many young people when choosing apprenticeships or jobs – the same PwC report found that 65% of people around the world want to work for an organisation with a powerful social conscience.

Additionally, KPMG surveyed 6,000 adult office workers, students and apprentices earlier this year. For those aged 18-24 years-old and just starting out in their careers, almost half (45%) had researched a company’s ESG credentials when looking for a job.

The research also showed that 20% of respondents had turned down a job offer because the company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments weren’t in line with their values.

Factoring sustainability into existing apprenticeships

The interest in sustainability is clearly there from an employer and learner perspective – so how can training providers cater to this demand?

Six green apprenticeships were recently hand-picked by industry experts as “gold-standard, sustainable apprenticeships”. The apprenticeships will be marked with the official Coronation emblem, in recognition of their sustainability credentials.

The six selected were:

  • Countryside Worker (level 2)
  • Forest Craftsperson (level 3)
  • Low Carbon Heating Technician (level 3)
  • Installation Electrician and Maintenance Electrician (level 3)
  • Sustainability Business Specialist (level 7)
  • Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Practitioner (level 4)

These types of green apprenticeships will be key in helping to reach ambitious net zero targets. However, we can also expect to see sustainability factored into existing apprenticeships in order to drive the green skills agenda.

Judy Ling Wong, chair of the Green Apprenticeships and Technical Education Advisory Panel, explained on a podcast that it’s important to identify gaps that could be filled by new apprenticeships but also see how existing apprenticeships could be made greener:

“We realise that all jobs in society have a role to play in getting us to be greener, so the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is not just concentrating on developing this area of new green jobs. It's also developed a sustainability framework, which is a reference article to find out the sustainability elements of all jobs,” she said.

Introducing the sustainability framework

This sustainability framework can be used to build environmental awareness into apprenticeships and training programmes. Judy gives the example of a job in the health and beauty industry, where learners can be encouraged to think about the chemicals they use and methods for disposal from a sustainability perspective.

In doing so, training providers can help to change learners’ mindsets around sustainability. Whatever the industry, learners can gain a better understanding of how their actions affect the environment and the role they can play personally in meeting net zero targets.

Developing knowledge, skills and behaviours around sustainability

The sustainability framework provides a useful starting point for considering how apprenticeships can contribute to climate change goals. It offers the following ideas around knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) which are applicable to all occupations.

Potential KSB themes for level 2 and 3 occupations

The framework admits that someone doing this level of occupation “can have a limited personal impact on sustainable outcomes in an organisation”, as well as a “limited opportunity to influence wider practice”. However, there are still plenty of learning opportunities that show every contribution matters.


  • Approaches to supporting sustainability in reference to the UK commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 (e.g. more sustainable models of product delivery)
  • Climate change, including the nature and sources of harmful emissions and reduction measures that can be taken (e.g. how their sector approaches energy, travel, water, waste procurement and heat and cooling technologies)
  • Occupational activities which contribute to their “professional carbon footprint” and steps they can take to reduce it


  • Ensuring resources are used efficiently (e.g. buildings are well insulated and use less fuel to heat, producing the correct number of products to reduce extra waste)
  • Ensuring resources are used responsibly (e.g. disposing of waste safely to protect local people and the environment)
  • Prioritising the use of sustainable practices where possible (e.g. planning for sustainable outcomes, recognising that by saving resources they can save money for the organisation)


  • Taking personal responsibility for sustainable outcomes by thinking about how they carry out their role (e.g. prioritising practices that contribute to minimising or reversing climate change, such as reducing the use of non-renewable resources)

You can read about potential themes for KSBs for levels 4 to 7 in the sustainability PDF here.

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