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Identifying green occupations in London

In a new GLA Economics report, we use an O*NET-based[1] classification of green jobs to identify occupations that are likely to be affected by the transition to a low-carbon circular economy. This supplement summarises our approach and highlights some key findings.

Challenges of defining green jobs

Delivering a green economic recovery and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in pursuit of net zero could have a significant impact on London’s labour market. A variety of jobs are likely to change as a result of the transition to a greener economy, in both the short term and the longer term.  

Identifying which jobs and skills will be affected by these changes, and integrating this information into education and training provision, is a priority for mayoral and national climate policy. This is important for both meeting green skills needs and preparing people for work in a greener economy.

For analysis to inform skills and other policy interventions, it is necessary to adopt working criteria to classify jobs as ‘green’. But while existing definitional approaches work well for quantifying and monitoring the impact of the green economy, they face limitations when it comes to understanding how different jobs will be affected by green-biased change[2].

Research also suggests that green skills are likely to sit on a spectrum – ranging from specific requirements in activities directly supporting the transition to a greener economy, to more general skills required across a range of sectors. In this context, it makes sense to adopt a more scaled approach rather than simply defining activities as ‘green’ or ‘not green’.

O*NET-based classification

In a new report, we explore an alternative method for identifying green jobs and skills. Our approach is based on research originally carried out in the United States by Dierdorff and colleagues (2009; 2011) and their O*NET-based classification of green jobs.

This classification, which should be considered complementary to other definitional approaches, is unique in several respects. For example, it:

  • Is more occupation-centric than other approaches, identifying jobs which are likely to be affected by a process of ‘greening’ as opposed to jobs which are inherently green.
  • Distinguishes between different categories of green occupations, providing an indication of the likely impact of greening on occupational demand and worker requirements.

To apply this in a UK context we map between US and UK occupational taxonomies, using a bespoke crosswalk based on the LMI for All database.

Identifying and locating green jobs

On this basis, we identify 100 out of 369 UK Standard Occupational Classification (SOC2010) unit groups as occupations subject to greening. This includes:

  • 41 green ‘increased demand’ occupations – where there will be an increase in demand for existing jobs and skills, without significant changes in work or worker requirements (e.g. construction operatives for insulation work or bus and coach drivers).
  • 33 green ‘enhanced skills’ occupations – where there will be significant changes in tasks and skills for existing job roles (e.g. vehicle technicians for work on electrical vehicles or construction managers to apply new green building strategies).
  • 26 green ‘new and emerging’ occupations – where new and emerging job roles will emerge with unique green skill areas (e.g. management consultants focused on sustainability issues or marketing professionals focused on green marketing).

Together these ‘green occupations’ accounted for over a quarter (28%) of jobs in London in 2019. This figure is higher than other green jobs estimates and is likely to represent an upper bound. The difference is largely down to the way that green jobs are defined. Our approach is relatively broad and includes all the jobs in an occupation affected by greening regardless of whether the work is currently directed towards green activities or tasks.

The rest of this supplement highlights some of the key emerging findings from our report, where more information and further analysis can be found.

1. The move towards a greener economy will lead to changes across a wide range of sectors and occupations

To give an indication of what type of jobs will be subject to greening, Figure A1 shows the percentage of jobs in green occupations within each SOC major group in London.

It shows that the move to a greener economy will have an impact on a range of different types of jobs. Occupations subject to greening are most concentrated in the skilled trades (55%) and to a lesser extent process, plant and machine operatives (34%) groups – especially green increased demand occupations. This is unsurprising given the likely impacts of greening on (for example) the construction, waste management and energy sectors.  

But green occupations also account for around a third of jobs in London’s professional and associate professional & technical groups (32% and 36% respectively). This reflects the impact that greening is also expected to have on areas like finance & insurance and professional services, with implications for the skills needed to work in these sectors.  

Figure A1:

2. There is a large degree of variation in skills and pay levels between green occupational categories

Reflecting this overarching occupational and sectoral pattern, occupations subject to greening also cover jobs requiring both lower-level and higher-level skills and qualifications, with varying levels of pay and working conditions.

Overall, jobs holders in green occupations in London are relatively highly qualified[3]. Yet there are also major differences between (and within) green categories. For example, only 43% of job holders in green increased demand occupations held a degree level qualification in 2017-2019, compared to 70% of job holders in green new & emerging occupations.

This variation is also reflected in pay levels. Figure A2 shows indicative estimates of median weekly pay for full-time employee jobs in different green categories[4]. It shows a clear disparity in average pay levels between green jobs – ranging from £668 a week for green increased demand occupations, to £911 a week for green enhanced skills occupations.

Figure A2:

Our full report also looks more closely at other dimensions of jobs quality such as temporary employment and training. As with pay levels, the key point to take away is that the quality of jobs is likely to vary between (and within) different green occupational categories.

3. Skills-related difficulties are currently highest in green increased demand occupations, although this could change over time

To see where skills challenges are currently most significant in relation to green occupations, we also turn to London level data from the Employer Skills Survey 2019. On this basis, Figure A3 shows the proportion of vacancies reported as hard-to-fill due to skill shortages or other reasons in 2019 based on estimates for each green occupational category[5].

A stark picture emerges. Although the level of qualification attainment and pay in green increased demand occupations is lower on average, the rate of hard-to-fill vacancies is likely to be higher than for other green categories or non-green occupations. We estimate that around a third of vacancies in green increased demand roles were hard to fill due to skills-related reasons in 2019 and another 6% of vacancies for other reasons. This reflects the long-standing difficulties reported by London employers when recruiting for skilled trades positions (e.g. electricians, construction & building trades, carpenters & joiners).

But while recruitment issues are currently less acute in other green occupational categories, it is precisely these jobs that are expected to see more significant changes in work and worker requirements as a result of greening. These changes could lead to an increase in skills-related challenges in other areas if education and training provision doesn’t keep pace.

Figure A3:

[1] Occupational Information Network (O*NET), a database containing
measures of occupational characteristics produced by the United States
Department of Labor.

[2] For example, they often focus on a somewhat narrow range of green
activities or sectors and typically do not map directly on to other standard
job classifications.

[3] Around 58% of job holders in occupations subject to greening held
qualifications at degree level in London in 2017-2019 – five percentage points
above the average for ‘non-green’ occupations (53%).

[4] Note these weighted estimates are based, in part, on modelled pay
estimates at the London level and should only be considered indicative of

[5] We access data for 2019 at the 2-digit level of the SOC framework
via the LMI for All API. Robust data is unavailable at the level of 4-digit SOC
codes, so these weighted estimates should only be considered indicative.