Philip Whiteman is chief executive of Semta

Could green jobs hold the key to economic resurgence? Yes - if we seize the opportunity to train a new workforce.

The low carbon markets are huge and growing; the Green Deal promises to create 200,000 jobs in the UK; and the greening of current jobs will make sustainable lean clean improvements to industry's bottom line.

Our challenge is to develop green skills across a diverse spread of industries, jobs and skills associated with introducing new technologies, minimising waste and making better use of existing technology.

Semta has identified the priority roles vital to driving economic growth by exploiting green opportunities. These are:

  • High level technical jobs such as technicians and managers
  • Multi-disciplinary jobs which combine science, technology and other competences.
  • Capable support staff in lean and waste reduction
  • Commercialisation of new technologies
  • Knowledge transfer activities

There are all manner of technical skills needs in the engineering and manufacturing sectors. They are needed to support the use of lighter composite materials, and greater fuel efficiency in aerospace and marine; to introduce alternative fuels, hybrids and electric vehicles, stop-start technology and reduced friction tyres in automotive; micro technology and plastic electronics to provide lighter components; and in the mechanical and electrical sectors to produce wind turbines and wind farms. Across the board there's a need to reduce the resources and materials used in manufacture, and to break the link between increasing our national wealth and damaging the environment.

The scale of the required change is enormous as research from Semta shows. As a nation we don't have all the required skills in the current workforce, we are struggling to develop a pipeline of young STEM talent, and we have an aging workforce whose skills will disappear with them into retirement. As a result, in strategically vital engineering, manufacturing and science industries, we need 30,000 new recruits each year between now and 2016.

If we break down the challenge and equip the UK workforce with the skills needed to compete globally, we will reap the benefits not only to the economy but also to society and the environment.

To support green skills development, Semta's awarding organisation EAL has developed a variety of lean green qualifications such as Hybrid Vehicle Introduction, Hybrid Vehicle Testing & Diagnosis and Business or Environmental Improvement Techniques. Our specialist awarding organisation EAL has worked closely with industry to develop the first suite of accredited qualifications for green installers to meet stringent quality, regulatory and customer needs.

Significant funding support is already available to access renewable energy EAL qualifications. Until July 2012, installation training for the four main technologies – solar thermal, solar photovoltaics, heat pumps and rainwater harvesting and recycling – is offered through the National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies at a greatly reduced rate.

The Green Deal should bring further opportunities to the FE sector. The Government led initiative will see £14bn of private investment ploughed into retro-fitting 14 million UK homes with energy saving measures over the next decade.

There will be a huge surge in demand for Green dDeal installers. Not only will already qualified electricians and other tradespeople need to upskill, training of new recruits will also be needed.

The Green Deal is currently going through consultation with the secondary legislation going to Parliament in the spring, so details have yet to be finalised, leaving little time for industry to get prepared for its launch in Autumn next year. New qualifications will need to be designed – for example for the new Green Deal Advisors - and existing ones to be augmented so policy can be delivered by a competent and safe workforce.

Time is required to develop and deliver qualifications and to train the nation's trainers so the sooner the detail of the Green Deal is agreed, the sooner businesses and organisations can ensure that the right training and qualifications are available to provide the workforce with the necessary skills and expertise to meet Government's goals.

So if you want to take advantage of the Green Deal, read up on what's available now and stay alert to Government announcements and news, and be prepared when policy becomes finalised. Otherwise it will be Green Deal – no Deal.

Philip Whiteman is chief executive of Semta, the Sector Skills Council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies in the UK

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