Changing the climate from within

By Kate Wilson | 09 March 2021

Climate change is a real issue which requires real solutions. This is especially true for the public sector, particularly local authorities, who are faced with real climate-related impacts on communities and the environment.

While the Government is equipping councils with several tools such as the UK Climate Impacts Programme, and a plethora of other documents and advice, increasing concern is emerging about the significant gap within the market for specialist professionals able to support them with both the adaptation and mitigation to climate change. What should we be doing?

The first city to launch a Climate Commission was Leeds in 2017. Since another ten authorities have established their own commissions with more in the pipeline for 2021 and more than 230 councils have now declared a climate emergency. Many are taking action to reduce their own carbon emissions, whether that be the drawing up of robust strategies and policy documents, the declaring and setting of new targets, or for some establishing their own climate change functions.

But is this enough to create a significant shift in cultural change and a switch to a more facilitating and enabling role? I am no expert in climate change so find responding to that element is somewhat challenging. What I do know is that there are going to be some significant recruitment challenges ahead to achieve our goal of zero carbon emissions in the coming years.

In 2018 there were 185,000 full-time workers in England’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy; few of those in local government. In 2030 across England there could be as many as 694,000 direct jobs employed in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy, rising to 1.18 million by 2050. By our estimate we foresee more than half a million of those will need to either be working in local government or strongly linked to it. The concern and need grows larger, though here at Osborne Thomas we recognise the significant efforts this sector has made so far.

Natasha Hilton Keane, director of recruitment at Osborne Thomas says: ‘The pandemic has shown us all how quickly local authorities can act when needed, and more importantly when it’s thrust into the spotlight, the crucial and fantastic work being carried out in the public sector. In the last 12 months the uplift in people switching from private to public sector has been significant and this only looks set to continue as people want to be a part of making this change.’

The private sector has so far played a key role in looking at how organisations address climate change, with an increasing number of corporations, SMEs and start-ups directly responding with real action. This, from a talent acquisition perspective, means that climate change specialists have been recruited and developed to support such radical business model changes. Even within the private sector, experts are still difficult to find, and thus aggressively sought after. With the public sector now entering the race, this talent shortage is only going to be exacerbated further.

A quick aside; there is some good news for the longer-term, as schools and colleges are introducing climate change as a subject area and there are increasing numbers of students enrolling in climate change undergraduate degrees at universities across the UK. But the outcomes of these moves are too far off and therefore recruitment right now and soon is still a challenge.

Advertising for climate change specialists on the same platforms used by the private sector, we find ourselves delving into the same pot. Therefore, we need to consider what is going to influence talent to join one side or the other. Salary, tempting packages and career rewards absolutely play a key role; but, as we enter a more values-driven ‘new age’, this is not all our specialists are interested in. The value of making a change is becoming more of a deciding factor when considering a new role.

To tackle this skill shortage issue, it is important to have a robust talent attraction strategy to ensure you can hire the right people at the right time. This can be done with the support of skilled recruitment partners who have a finger on the market pulse, and a pre-existing, established network.

Clearly for the foreseeable future this is always going to be a tough market to recruit to while we await the new generation, however there are many positives to focus on – and particularly now.

Natasha Hilton Keane continues: ‘With working from home being more accepted than ever before, local authorities previously restricted to talent only within a certain realm can now look to widen their geography, giving them an even greater chance of success in a niche and completive market. With such momentum, now is certainly a great time to capitalise and build.’

Here’s to a carbon free future.

Kate Wilson is development manager at Osborne Thomas

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