Why net-zero needs a gear change in STEM education



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National Grid have announced a major new investment in London – and now they’re looking for the right people to fill jobs in the future. Today Gareth Burden – Project Director, London Power Tunnels – tells City A.M. why they’re doing it.

For this country to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 we require the development of cutting-edge technology and new infrastructure built on a transformational scale – a theme the Prime Minister majored on at his Conservative Party Conference speech this week. 

What we need to achieve our goals is a Net Zero Energy Workforce which combines technical expertise, with softer skills and a passion for climate action. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles we face in reaching net-zero is the emerging employment and skills gap.

Currently, the UK’s energy sector directly employs 144,000 people but to reach net-zero it needs to fill 400,000 roles. This has the potential to be an opportunity for significant employment in every part of the United Kingdom with huge boosts for London and regional economies.

However, if the uptake of science, technology and engineering (STEM) subjects at school, university and as a career remains at current levels, we won’t be able to reach our target and the environment, and economy, will suffer as a result. 

Read more: Boris Johnson announces millions for wind energy revolution

To succeed in building a Net Zero Energy Workforce, we need to inspire the next generation to choose STEM. Research carried out by Development Economics for National Grid found that we need to increase the number of A level candidates for physics by 24 per cent and maths by 19 per cent to maintain the pipeline of qualified talent Britain needs.

Diverse students should want to study STEM

Simply put, we will only create a Net Zero Energy Workforce if we can attract those who would not normally consider a job within the sector. That means inspiring the next generation of talent from all walks of life, especially young women and the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community, as well as those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

To help build the talent of the future, this month we have launched a pioneering STEM skills and careers outreach programme working with some of London’s most disadvantaged schools and young people. The programme, taking place over the next five years, will reach more than 100,000 secondary school pupils in south London and encourage them to pursue careers in STEM. Working with our partners from MyKindaFuture, the UK’s leading underrepresented talent specialists, we will deliver a programme of webinars, workshops and digital mentoring schemes designed to develop employability skills and encourage careers in STEM.

The programme is taking place at schools which sit along the route of National Grid’s London Power Tunnel’s project; the new 32.5km underground highway rewiring the capital between Wimbledon and Crayford. The project is vital to ensure that London has a safe, secure, and efficient electricity transmission network for the future. 

I believe there has never been a better time to invest in the next generation of engineers and diversify the profession, to help us achieve net zero by 2050. COVID-19 has hit the jobs market terribly but it’s young people, specifically disadvantaged young people, bearing the brunt of this. Research suggests that disadvantaged students are twice as likely to become NEET (not in education, employment or training) aged 18 than their peers.

I want to help ensure that for young, disadvantaged pupils across South London (and beyond) a valuable career in STEM is easily accessible. We have the people, we have the talent, we just need to harness it for the Net Zero Energy Workforce of the future.

The post Opinion: Why net-zero needs a gear change in STEM education appeared first on CityAM.

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