Government Skills Gap Report Misses Biodiversity

The Department for Education last week published a research report on Skills needs in selected occupations over the next 5-10 years. The research looked into how skills needs will change over the next 5-10 years in four priority areas, which were “health, science and technology, managers, and skilled trades”.

Of the three major crises facing humanity – climate change, biodiversity loss, and social inequality – the report rightly highlights climate considerations across all areas of the economy, and likewise emphasises the importance of skills related to awareness of equality, diversity and inclusion.

Skills in relation to climate change are noted as relevant across sectors as needed to improve environmental impacts and increase sustainability. Where the report disappoints however is in its omission of skills in relation to biodiversity. The report mentions “climate change” no less than 14 times, whilst no nature terms (biodiversity, nature, wildlife, ecology, ecosystem, habitat, etc.) get a mention. Whilst the authors recognise the limitations of the research (such as the small sample size, and in depending on the interviewees to raise specific topics independently) it does however suggest that the interviewees and workshop attendees are aware of the importance and implications of climate change but that they have yet to grasp the dire consequences for the economy and society of ongoing biodiversity loss and ecosystem dysfunction.

As government policy and legislation on nature restoration gets to actual delivery, for example with Biodiversity Net Gain becoming mandatory from 2023, the need for biodiversity professionals will become even more acute than it is now. CIEEM already recognised this as a crisis in 2021.

Natural capital is increasingly recognised as needing wider and deeper integration into the economy, including integrating biodiversity impact assessments into business operations and supply chains, not to mention skills needs as diverse as, for example, environmental net gain approaches and the transition to regenerative agriculture.

The study shortlisted “environment professionals” for consideration, but then did not select it as a priority. Based on ONS data, the report estimates that there are 48,100 environment professionals, although it is unclear from the report if this is for England or the UK. This number must surely be an underestimate given the breadth of the environment sector.

It is disappointing to not even to get a mention for biodiversity professionals in the report. As a profession we still clearly have work to do.