Jeremy Corbyn has announced that a Labour government would deliver 320,000 new ‘climate apprenticeships’ during its first term – part of a wider commitment to creating a million high skilled jobs in a Green Industrial Revolution. There’s a general recognition that a Green New Deal would be kick-started in the building and construction sector, energy proofing existing housing stock, insulating them from top to bottom and investing heavily in solar panels.
The reinvention of UK apprenticeships during the last twenty years has not been a success. Although the situation is improving, a large number continue to be in low level service occupations and young people, particularly those leaving school or college are greatly underrepresented. In building and construction, despite complaints about skill shortages, the problems have been particularly acute, with the workforce ageing, a growing dependence on foreign labour and the widespread use of sub-contracting rather than permanent employment – the trade union UCATT estimates that 40 per cent of the sector’s workers are approximately are self-employed. Labour has said it will reform the current employer’s levy and improve the coordination and training opportunities for those doing apprenticeships – though the current Institute of Apprenticeships will continue to oversee.
It’s understandable that Labour wants to emphasise the employment possibilities and argue that ‘green’ growth will be more labour intensive than in traditional fossil fuel economies. But a Green Industrial Revolution also offers very different opportunities and even if it does redirect labour to more socially useful activities, shouldn’t be seen as primarily a job creation exercise. Automation and robotics can be used in positive ways to reduce the time spent working, but also allow huge productivity increases – cutting the number of hours required to perform a specific task. This is already possible in the building and construction sector where in an industry not known for its ability to adapt quickly or frequently churn out innovations, new environmentally friendly housing can be built-off site in kits, using 3-D printers rather than traditional construction techniques, requiring less labour, not more.
Linked to national initiatives, like the 32 hours/four-day week designed to reduce the amount of work people have to do, new green jobs can also be new types of jobs.