Thousands of new ‘future-fit' jobs could be created if the new Welsh Government embraces a radical vision for Wales, according to the Future Generations Commissioner.

Progressive ideas and amplifying under-heard voices will be vital to help people into the new secure and fulfilling work needed for the country to recover from Covid-19, said Sophie Howe, as she sets out her future-focused programme for the new government. 

Of those newly unemployed in the UK in 2020-21, 63% are under 25 (1) and Wales TUC suggests almost 60,000 jobs could be created in the green recovery, by 2022, with the right investment. 

Tackling youth unemployment should be done in a way that maximises benefits, acting on the impacts of Covid on mental health – such as loneliness, said the commissioner, whose role under Wales’ Well-being of Future Generations Act is to advocate for current generations and people not yet born. 

Public Health Wales reported last year that only half of people rated their current happiness level as high. 

In a new paper published today [Monday, March 24], A Fit for the Future Programme for Government, Ms Howe said Welsh Government needs to rethink the way the economy works and who benefits, by: 

  • Building the power of culture and creativity into Covid recovery. 
  • Increasing opportunities for people to learn throughout their life. 
  • Targeting skills programmes in future-focused industries, towards women, disabled people, Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, and those furthest from the labour market. 
  • Prioritising investment and job creation in a green and care-led recovery –paying care workers the real living wage. 
  • Investing in other industries for recovery, such as housing decarbonisation and transport.  
  • Setting a long-term investment plan for making homes more energy efficient – saving people on energy bills and creating jobs. Eradicating fuel poverty in the next decade, through doubling fuel poverty funding. (2) 
  • Launching a National Nature Service to provide skills and create jobs, increasing opportunities for social prescribing (where patients receive non-clinical support in the community), while restoring Wales’ natural environment such as forests, countryside and green spaces, helping Wales become the world’s first eco-literate nation.  

The commissioner said Welsh Government’s new ‘Climate Ministry’ across housing, transport, planning, environment and energy, along with a commitment to a Universal Basic Income pilot showed a commitment to new ideas to tackle inequalities. 

Yet analysis by the Future Generations Commissioner, New Economics Foundation (NEF) and Wales TUC highlights work to be done – identifying that the current skills pipeline in Wales is not prepared or diverse enough for the race to net zero. 

In agriculture, forestry, nature restoration and related trades, about 25 per cent of the workforce is female and 0.76 per cent is of non-white ethnicity. In electric installation, including broadband, electric vehicles and solar panels, 29 per cent of the workforce is female and 6 per cent is of non-white ethnicity. 

In addition, new research shows Wales now has the worst child poverty rate of all the UK nations, with one in five children living below the poverty line. (3) 

Ms Howe is working with think tank Autonomy to explore how a basic income, where people are paid a set amount to meet their basic needs, regardless of if they’re in employment, would substantially reduce poverty.

The commissioner now wants Welsh Government to show how it will tackle cross-cutting issues like pollution and health, while maximising the well-being value of every policy and programme – calling for a ‘timeline, actions and investments for a Prosperous, Green and Equal Recovery’ as we rebuild our public services, communities and the economy. 

Wales has some of the worst air quality in the UK. A road in Caerphilly recorded the highest levels of pollution outside of London.  

Public Health Wales has described outdoor air pollution as the greatest environmental risk to health and estimates between 1,000-1,400 deaths annually can be attributed to exposure to air pollution, which is higher in Wales’ most deprived areas. 

Sophie Howe said: “Covid recovery needs bold, whole-government solutions to ensure access to decent, meaningful and fair work, especially for young people worried about their future. 

“We have to make sure that everyone can take advantage of new green job opportunities, and that we have the right skills and training in place for that to happen. At the moment, the gaps on skills and lack of diversity is worrying and opportunities are being missed. 

“My plan sets out the policy actions needed for more joined-up thinking, with the help of the people and skills we already have in our communities, from volunteers to businesses, artists and creatives. 

“Done right, we can create opportunities for life, improving our health today and restoring our natural environment for communities and generations to come.” 

  • Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, will be speaking at Wales TUC Congress 2021 on Wednesday, May 26.   

Notes to editors 

(1): According to the Green Alliance Report 2021. 

(2): To £73m a year. 

(3): Before the pandemic, almost 200,000 children were living in poverty in Wales, with a higher proportion of children affected than at any point in the past five years. One in five children in Wales are living below the poverty line, according to research by Loughborough University for the UK End Child Poverty Coalition. 

The word ‘future’ was used 75% more times, compared with 2016, in this year’s political manifestos ahead of the Welsh Election, which Ms Howe said the Senedd must now make good on its commitment to policies that protect people in the long-term. 

Shavanah Taj, General Secretary, Wales TUC, said“A green recovery also has to be a fair and inclusive recovery. We all agree we need to build back better, which is why getting a clear picture of our starting point and the skills gap is extremely important.  

“Now we need to work with employers and government on workforce planning, so that any investment to upskill our workforce and decarbonise our homes also results in good quality work and a much more diverse construction sector. We won’t build back better unless we plan the details in partnership, especially when it comes to diversity.  

“This is part of our wider ambition for a just transition to a low carbon economy, where no worker is left behind and state investment raises up those people who are typically held back by our jobs market, including women workers and those from BAME backgrounds.” 

“Training young people for green jobs can help with climate anxiety”

Lisa Tomos, 24, from Llandygai in Gwynedd, struggled to find work after graduating with a first class honours degree in Social Anthropology from the University of St Andrews in 2019.

“When Covid hit, there were no opportunities,” she said.

Lisa knew she wanted to work in sustainability and had first planned to travel to the mountains of Welsh-speaking Patagonia – but both were put on hold by the pandemic.

“You feel like your life is on hold. All of my friends felt the same. After university, there’s a pressure to land your dream job and Covid made that worse. We all felt stuck. Some of my friends still do. My boyfriend was cold calling places every day and other friends took up caring work to do their bit to help in the pandemic and also earn a little money.”

After a few months back at home with her parents, Lisa discovered an opportunity, via the Facebook page of the social enterprise, Partneriaeth Ogwen, the organisation that had been delivering fresh food boxes to her family.

The part-time role with the support of Arloesi Gwynedd Wledig, saw Lisa working with the community to conduct community research. This was followed by another work opportunity, to explore how tourism could be more sustainable and bring more benefits to people living there. She co-designed a model of community tourism, working collaboratively with other social enterprises across North Wales, to enable community groups to buy and run holiday lets for the benefit of the community.

She now works as knowledge and learning officer at The National Lottery Community Fund, helping to develop future funding programmes that will enable more communities to access funding for projects that focus on sustainability and climate change.

“So many organisations are now focusing on how they can help tackle the climate emergency – it’s an industry that’s growing – but people need help accessing the opportunities,” said Lisa.

“Young people have great ideas that, given the opportunity, can be of huge value.”

The nature of work is changing. Analysis firm, Oxford Economics, say up to 20 million manufacturing jobs around the world could be replaced by robots by 2030.

Lisa said: “We have to equip young people with the skills for jobs of the future now – cushioning them from the shock of the big changes that are coming. If the capacity isn’t there, it will be so much harder later when we really need it.

“Wales is ahead of the curve in its intentions, the Well-being of Future Generations Act is an example of that, but we need to go harder and faster.

“We know that climate change is going to continue to harm disadvantaged people. We can’t allow people to be left behind.”

Lisa, a vegan for environmental reasons who says the climate emergency is a constant conversation with friends, thinks training young people for green jobs can also ‘help with climate anxiety’.

A study by the Environment Agency found that people who experience extreme weather such as storms or flooding are 50% more likely to suffer from mental health problems, including stress and depression, for years afterwards.

Lisa said: “We have to empower young people with the knowledge and the skills to do something about the climate emergency – so we can find joy in working towards this shared goal.”