Martin Baxter: 'The Government has rightly put skills and the environment at the heart of the economy'

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The Independent Online

One of the common themes running through discussion and debate about where the economy is going is the need to focus on low carbon and resource efficiency. The Government's legally binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050, with an interim target of 34 per cent by 2020, set the framework within which the new green economy will need to be built.

Economic growth with limited resources and reduced reliance on carbon is going to require a significant change in the way that all companies operate. The Government's forthcoming Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, due out in the summer, will lay down the business opportunities that will result from the transformation. New markets for low-carbon products and services will emerge, and opportunities to make significant savings from reduced energy consumption and resource efficiency will be enhanced, helping to increase productivity and improve competitiveness while reducing environmental impact.

A critical element of the transition will be developing environmental knowledge and skills. Not only will this need to be done through shaping the skills of young people going through the education system, but with an estimated three quarters of the 2020 workforce already in employment, there's also a massive task to be undertaken in re-skilling across all sectors of the economy.

So what are environmental and low-carbon skills? IEMA's work, backed up by recent Government research, shows that in the majority of environmental jobs we are not talking about the need for specialist environmental skills per se, but a need for increased environmental knowledge applied through well-honed and consistently mobilised generic skills. An environmental professional is able to revolutionise environmental practice in an organisation because he or she has the right level and breadth of knowledge and can apply it successfully.

IEMA's membership criteria has been established according to this rationale. Our associate membership provides successful candidates with a broad level of environmental knowledge, while our full membership recognises those experienced practitioners who can demonstrate a track record in the application of that knowledge within a business context.

However, a focus on employing environmental professionals within a company must be supported by a drive to embed differing levels of environmental knowledge and skills across an organisation's entire operation.

Differing levels of environmental training and qualifications are needed. Vocational qualifications must also support non environmental jobs to have an environmental element.

The "system" that Government has established to drive skills in the economy relies on the private sector demanding the skills it feels are necessary. Unfortunately, many businesses still see "environment" as a matter of pure regulatory compliance. This is a market failure. As a result, the economy misses the very real productivity and competitiveness gains derived from good environmental management.

If every business is to have an environmental professional and all employees are to have the right level of knowledge and skills, then simplicity, flexibility and accessibility to the way in which qualifications, skills and training are delivered is crucial.

The multi-disciplinary environmental professional is crucial to make this happen and IEMA will champion their role in the new low-carbon economy.

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