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Becky McLean

Head of Sustainability - Energy, Water & Environment

What are green skills – and why are they giving me the blues?


‘Green skills’ is a buzz-phrase that’s been a part of many of our day-to-day discussions as an industry for a long time, but it’s now also being dropped into more and more conversations and debates along the corridors of power.

If parliamentarians are to be believed, there are millions of green skill jobs on their way, and that’s what we all want to hear. So what’s the problem? Below are just some of my reflections on why we’re not quite where we should be…with some ideas on how we might get there.

  1. What exactly are green skills? 

Currently this is not clear. It would be useful to have a clear definition that outlines the knowledge, abilities, values and attitudes needed to live in, develop and support a sustainable resource-efficient society. In theory, green skills should form a part of every job description, for all of us. To really make progress, perhaps we should aim to ensure everyone obtains ‘green skills’ by default. Sustainability needs to be everyone’s responsibility if we are to evolve collectively to create a fair, equal and sustainable society.

  1. What kind of skills does society need? 

This will require training in the traditional attributes including engineering and tech skills, science skill but also operation/management skills (organisational management will be crucial to support green activities and integrate lifecycle/lean management and monitoring skills) as well as skills in the technical and legal aspects of business activities such as compliance, monitoring and emergency management


My passion lies in making a difference and supporting change. I’m currently involved in a number of social value projects including a green skills apprenticeship that will not require any qualifications to be able to access the course. This course will aim to open up the world of green skills , with no educational or economic barriers, providing people with a route in and hopefully to inspire them to find their perfect job.

Becky McLean Head of Sustainability (Energy, Water & Environment) at Sweco UK


  1. What about ‘soft’ green skills?

Support for a green future will require hands-on skills- we need to expand the less obvious ‘traits’. Think: circular design positive mindset, creativity, adaptability, resilience and empathy as the world around us changes at speed.  We can’t solve this problem through tech alone and therefore we will require significant behavioural change that will require far more softer skills and emotional intelligence.

  1. What are the barriers?

We have a current skills gap full stop, let alone a shortage of green   Considering construction and infrastructure, latest figures indicate that much of our construction workforce are going to retire in the next few years…and we also have diversity and inclusion barriers that are preventing people from entering these professions. When you combine these factors, it is clear that we are going to have to work tirelessly, and together, on breaking down these barriers whilst also developing the Holy Grail of centrally-defined green skills. Perhaps this is the chance to rebrand, reattract and redefine how certain industries are perceived.

  1. The need for a change in mindset

Our society tends to be reactive rather than pro-active. To make a real difference, perhaps ‘sustainable green skills’ needs to be a key part of our education curriculum which is seen is as important as Maths and English. We could use this shift in importance to teach people life skills that would provide them with a ‘toolbox’ to Live In, Help Develop and Support our net zero future.  What would this toolbox look like?  It would focus on how you as an individual can make a difference (how you travel, how you work, how you live, how to deal with what challenges life is going to throw at you, how you can help change society through actions, voting, community empowerment etc).

  1. Being ‘greenclusive’

We need to change our training approach to be inclusive and encouraging for everyone regardless of whether a traditional school/college/university route ‘fits’. Let’s create a flexible and diverse path to access these green skills. The wider societal benefits of giving people employment, purpose and creating a diverse workforce are clearly understood so if we can get this right, we could not only solve the green skills issue but also address our equality, diverse and economic challenges that are faced by large parts of our society.

Becky presented these and other views at ‘The Future of Green Skills in the Construction Sector’ event led by the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and the HCI Skills Gateway Edinburgh in March of this year, and also contributed to the  Green Skills Report, which you can download below.