Insights from Equate’s Director

The Scottish Parliament election is over and focus shifts to economic and societal recovery, maintaining the progress we have made in getting the pandemic under control.

Equate Scotland entered into the spirit of the election campaign by publishing our 7 Manifesto Asks. We were delighted with the response from prospective candidates who took the time to read our Asks.  We were also delighted that the Scottish Green Party responded in support of all our Asks and we look forward to picking up with their representatives to see how we might work together to take these Asks forward.

This week, on time and on message, we’ve published our latest publication, Recover, Refocus and Renew, and sent this to all MSPs including the First Minister and party leaders.

We want to make sure that they know about Equate Scotland, our work, and our mission to get more women and girls into STEM sector careers.  We look forward to engaging with the various STEM, Equalities, and Education spokespeople in the months ahead.  Because time is of the essence.

With COP26 (still) coming to Glasgow in November, it will bring into sharp focus the challenges we all face with respect to climate change.   If we thought that the challenges of the pandemic have been tough to deal with, then the words of Mark Carney should be a wake-up call for all of us – especially legislators and industry – the climate clock is ticking.

According to Carney, “When you look at climate change from a human mortality perspective, it will be the equivalent of a coronavirus crisis every year from the middle of this century, not just a one-off event.”

He highlights that while governments are pouring trillions into stimulus plans to rescue their ailing economies very little of that cash is heading towards reducing carbon emissions and the scale of investment in energy, sustainable energy and sustainable infrastructure needs to double. Every year, for the course of the next three decades, $3.5 trillion (£2.5tn) a year, for 30 years.

While Carney focused on the investment levels required, it is implicit that there would also need to be the right people, with the right skills, at the right time to deliver on it.  This point was brutally illustrated in a recent article where despite the best of intentions and big glossy policy announcements the on-the-ground work has simply not been done. But the UK of course are not alone in this.

At a very simple level, our homes make up 15% of the UK total CO2 emissions.  Retrofitting homes with better insulation and migrating from fossil-fuel boilers will be key. From a skills perspective, on this aspect alone, the UK will need 36,000 trained retrofitters, but currently, there are only 500 – just 2% of what is needed.

Our climate commitments require swopping 600K gas boilers for heat pumps by 2028 but currently, there are only 950 accredited heat pump installers Vs 96,000 boiler installers.

The pandemic illustrated what “models of change” say is required to successfully make change – a compelling reason. What we saw in these past months was large scale levels of change, at pace, and mobilisation by governments and businesses to adapt to a global pandemic – a very compelling reason for change.  Now, where is this level of urgency in addressing the climate challenge – not least of which is building the skills pipeline that will be required at every level of society to meet the scale of commitment required?

The Institute of Engineering and Technology reported in February 2021 that 93% of industry is without the skills to meet the 2050 climate targets, and only 7% of engineering companies in the UK have a sustainability strategy with the skills needed to fulfil it.

STEM skills for every organisation are going to be in increasing demand.  Reskilling and retraining will be required at unprecedented levels.  But with statistics showing that we are still not using all the talents of all our people and that women continue to be underrepresented in all STEM sectors, which countries, which governments, which industries, will finally seize the challenge, and show the leadership and radical, targeted action that all the data is telling us we should?

During the pandemic, we have become attuned to the phrase “We will be led by the data and the science”.  Following this philosophy on climate change would be a great start.  This skills pandemic is no longer just an issue of gender.   It’s an issue of survival.