Quarter of million green apprenticeships needed to fix youth unemployment crisis

Press release
There’s a serious risk that this country is going to leave its young people to a future devastated by the climate crisis and unemployment
  Published:  02 Mar 2021    |      5 minute read

Research by Friends of the Earth has revealed that creating 250,000 green apprenticeships leading to jobs including in renewable energy, woodland creation, and peatland restoration, would help address the crises in youth unemployment (that could cost today's unemployed young people £39bn in future earnings), and climate breakdown.

Released ahead of the Chancellor’s spring Budget, the report An emergency plan on green jobs for young people – why and how? (by Transition Economics for Friends of the Earth) lays bare the scarring economic impact of youth unemployment from Covid-19 on individuals, local authorities, and the overall country. But the research also shows the huge potential for fighting the climate crisis with green jobs country-wide if apprenticeships are given proper government support.

The report, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, shows that:

  • The collective scarring impact of youth unemployment during the pandemic could see up to £39 in billion lost wages in the UK over the following 20 years, if all young people currently unemployed remain jobless for a year.
  • The Combined Authority and Metro Mayor areas with the greatest opportunities for green apprenticeship creation over 3 years are:
  1. London – 44,220
  2. West Midlands – 19,430
  3. Greater Manchester – 14,140
  4. West Yorkshire – 11,750
  5. Sheffield City Region – 6,400
  • The local authorities with the greatest potential for green apprenticeship creation over 3 years are:
  1. Birmingham – 9,080
  2. Leeds – 4,030
  3. Bradford – 3,420
  4. Manchester – 3,420
  5. Liverpool – 2,780

See page 86 of the report for future wage scarring impacts and green apprenticeships targets broken down by local authority

Recommendations to deliver these green apprenticeships include up to £10.6 billion of government funding towards wage subsidies, training, and diversity measures, as well as creating a network of National and Regional Centres of Excellence for Zero Carbon Skills at further education colleges. The report also proposes bursaries of £1,500 to promote participation in green apprenticeships among disadvantaged groups including Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, women, and disabled people.

Denis Fernando, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: 

“There’s a serious risk that this country is going to leave its young people to a future devastated by the climate crisis and unemployment. But it’s not too late to turn this around. Investing in green apprenticeships in areas such as renewable energy and woodland creation could prevent a new wave of youth unemployment, while helping the UK towards a more climate-friendly future.”

Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said:

“This research is a stark reminder that the steps we take now to tackle climate change can also introduce opportunities for young people. Players of People’s Postcode Lottery have supported this research as part of our Postcode Climate Challenge initiative, which is supporting 12 charities with an additional £24 million for projects tackling climate change this year. Ending youth unemployment while fighting climate change offers a worthwhile solution to tackling two of the key issues we face.”

Bridie Salmon, 22 from Lincolnshire, is studying for a Level 3 BTEC National in Engineering through Orsted, a Danish renewable energy company.

“When I was at school, green jobs and apprenticeships just weren’t mentioned, and I didn’t know that apprenticeships were so accessible, beneficial and available. Schools should promote more options and make sure green jobs are promoted.

“The biggest thing the government can do is to increase awareness and provide grants. Most apprenticeships offer half of the minimum wage. The government should offer grants to support companies to offer minimum wage for apprenticeships. They also need to advocate for green jobs.”

Eishar Bassan, 23, is a Graduate Support Engineer at Siemen’s Gamesa – a renewable energy company.

“Schools should help students who have an interest and/or aptitude to choose the relevant GCSE and A-Level subjects. I believe there is a responsibility for industries to go into schools and promote the opportunities, using female role models if possible. If you only see men in the engineering roles, you can’t imagine it’s for you. You struggle to be what you can’t see.”

See page 68 of the report for more case studies of young people working in green jobs and apprenticeships.

Serena Murdoch, 17, Campaigner at Teach the Future (a youth-led campaign calling for better climate education), said:

"As young people we are faced with an impending double crisis. We will have to deal with the disproportionate economic fallout from Covid-19, and begin our adult lives in an age of greater and greater climate injustice. Over recent years students have shown the world we have the energy and determination to rise to the climate emergency, but we can’t do it alone. This report gives politicians some concrete steps to begin providing good green jobs for the next generation of workers, and to unleash our energy to help build a safer, fairer future."

Paul Nowak, Deputy General Secretary at TUC, said:

"Young people have borne the brunt of the job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and we need an urgent plan to make sure this experience doesn't scar their future. We know that investment in the skills required to get Britain to net zero, and in the good green jobs that will deliver it, could provide the opportunities young people desperately need now. This report is an important contribution to making that happen - and we look forward to working with everyone committed to ensuring that we deliver a better future both for young people and for the planet."

Further findings from the report:

  • An 18–20-year-old who experiences one year of unemployment could lose up to £133,000 in wages over the next 20 years, as a result of lower future pay.
  • The estimated 27 thousand unemployed young people in Wales could lose up to £1.6 billion in future wages over 20 years.
  • On a Combined Authority and Metro Mayor level, the greatest estimated collective scarring impacts fall on West Midlands (£2.6 billion), Greater Manchester (£1.8 billion) and London (£7.2 billion), corresponding to the greatest numbers of unemployed young people.

Providing young people with green jobs is one of the means of addressing youth unemployment. The climate and ecological emergency will mostly harm young people and future generations as it unfolds, so addressing both these emergencies together is a win-win for young people.


  1. Read the full report “An emergency plan on green jobs for young people – why and how?” including case studies and methodology here
  2. 250,000 young people starting green apprenticeships over the next three years (100,000 in 21-22 and 22-23 and 50,000 in 23-24) would be a big boost from current levels. In 2019/20 nationally there were 95,300 apprenticeship starts of 19–24-year-olds and 76,300 under 19s across all occupations. For many skills needed for the low carbon economy apprenticeship standards do not current exist or existing standards need adapting.
  3. A green apprenticeship programme should be run alongside job creation and other education/traineeship programmes.
  4. The apprenticeship numbers identified in each area roughly correspond to half the December 2020 16–24-year-old Claimant Count. But youth unemployment is already rising sharply, and is forecast to be much higher, potentially to 1 million young people or more.
    • Many of the green apprenticeships needed will be geographically dispersed across the country (e.g. housing retrofits, installing EV chargers), whereas others may be in more concentrated areas (e.g. afforestation or peatland restoration) so figures should be taken as a guide rather than precise figure of apprenticeships needed.
  5. A scarring effect of unemployment on future earnings is well recognised academically and within government. The Institute of Fiscal Studies recently published an economic estimate of the scarring effect of lost classroom education. The modelling here builds on academic studies of scarring caused by youth unemployment, to calculate the scarring effect for an individual and local authority area (and combined authority) using income statistics for these areas.
    • This means that the future economic scarring effect for an individual is higher in areas of higher wages than in areas with lower wages. Obviously, these figures are illustrative of the scale of the problem for the individual and area and not exact predictions, because the economic situations in areas are dynamic.
  6. For individual economic scarring, the modelling uses the 30th percentile of earnings by area (the 50th percentile would reflect the average). This ensures a conservative estimate and reflects the fact that youth unemployment disproportionately affects people without university degrees, who are likely to have lower earnings later in life.
    • The range in estimates is because the research built three models, each working from a different academic analysis of UK youth unemployment wage scarring. The different academic papers came to slightly different conclusions (and hence coefficients) on the level of scarring according to gender and age. A single figure relying on one model would be less accurate than the ranges we have produced. The relevant academics have also reviewed our methodology in building on their work.