Emma Dore

11 May 2023

Despite a flurry of research and activity at the national level, skills and jobs for a green economy continue to float around the edge of most agendas. Local authorities need to lead the development of local ‘green’ employment pipelines, but collaboration is essential for place-based success.

Collaboration as a characteristic of success will not be a surprise to anyone who has previously been involved in public sector delivery. Overused in policy papers on any given topic, it is one of those words that our eyes can skim past. Stick with me.

With an urgency cast by one of the most ambitious climate targets in the UK, Edinburgh Climate Commission have been investigating how skills and jobs are lining up in our city. We have been learning about the different modes and moments of collaboration that are necessary to deliver net zero.

Cross-sectoral collaboration

Getting the right skills and jobs, in the right place, at the right time involves a complex dance involving a triangle of:

  • Public climate policy
  • Private sector employer demand
  • Training supply by education providers

Actors from every sector need to work together across cultures, lexicons, and constraints. To embed this in Edinburgh, utility companies, training bodies and anchor institutions have been given roles in the city council’s net zero governance structures.

Of course, local authorities do not stand alone in the public sector: their leadership should be supported by other relevant public bodies. In each context, it will be necessary to decide how best to build into or alongside existing partnership structures to ensure that developing skills for a green economy is firmly on the agenda across the sector.

Construction, energy and transport will be at the top of most lists when thinking about cross-sectoral collaboration. However, there is benefit in looking beyond these usual suspects. As the entire economy makes the green shift, we found that listening to other sectors, such as culture, can shed light on assets, needs and solutions.

Cross-scale collaboration: big and small

Multiple existing institutions mean that the local authority area represents a natural boundary for governing the transition to net zero. However, other scales are also helpful in promoting the development of a green skills and jobs pipeline, as recognised in the development of Local Skills Improvement Plans and Employer Representative Bodies in England last year.

Collaboration beyond local authority boundaries can lead to the impactful pooling of resources and more accurate workforce mobility forecasting. For Edinburgh’s skills development, the City Region Deal is a key force in driving fruitful initiatives and partnership working.

As well as thinking big, to effectively lead on green skills development local authorities also need to collaborate at the smaller, neighbourhood scale. Community groups, locally trusted employability charities and SMEs are important partners. Public engagement is crucial to the success of net zero, and aligning with local employment opportunities is especially important to ensure a just transition for disadvantaged groups. We are exploring the Community Wealth Building approach as a natural point of synergy between net zero and economic development priorities.

Collaboration across time scales

It is understandable that policy documents, maps, and budget spreadsheets can be the focus as localities plan for the transition to net zero. However, we have found that a (metaphorical) shared calendar also needs to be studied from the outset. Without a clear understanding across all actors of timescales, uncertainty - therefore risk - becomes a major barrier.

When is the local college’s recruitment cycle? How long will the planning department need? What are the timescales for training enough people, given the local training center capacity? All of these factors, and many others, must be integrated into planning.

Driving innovation

Beyond creating better plans, clear timelines and early policy communication create confidence for the market to respond and invest. Much of the uncertainty that hampers market activity sits at the national level, but local government has control over significant areas that can be harnessed for local benefit. There are real opportunities for third sector, training bodies and erstwhile private sector rivals to think creatively and collaboratively, to share the risks of developing a workforce fit for a green economy. This is, after all, a climate emergency. 

Since 2020, Scotland has had the advantage of the Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan (CESAP). However, without clear guidance for local ownership, progress at the local level has been uneven and remained peripheral in many strategic plans. The current ‘refresh’ of CESAP needs to recognise and resource the important role of place-based approaches and ownership, and other UK plans should follow suit.

Local authority leadership of place-based green skills development would bring necessary focus to the development of local green skills pipelines. This will be most effective if close, creative collaboration - across scales and sectors - is at its core.

Emma Dore led the Green Skills project for Edinburgh Climate Commission as part of the Partnerships Team at Edinburgh Climate Change Institute. She is an experienced policy professional specialising in private sector and public policy interfaces.