Brexit has been blamed on a lack of lorry drivers and shortages in filling jobs vacancies in hospitality and other sectors – leading to pictures of empty shelves in some supermarkets.
But Michael Matheson has told MSPs that the decision to leave the EU is now “flashing red lights” to him about potentially putting Scotland’s pledge to become net zero at risk.
Speaking to Holyrood’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, Mr Matheson told MSPs that he is determined to “secure a climate-resilient Scotland”.
But the Cabinet Secretary admitted that “despite strong progress” in Scotland halving its carbon emissions since 1990, “significant challenges remain” – with MSPs pledging to cut emissions by 75% of 1990 levels in just nine years’ time and become net zero by 2045.
Mr Matheson stressed that the Scottish Government will bring forward “decisive, ambitious action” in order to “get back on track” with hitting annual targets after they were missed over the last three years.
The SNP minister was pressed over what he saw as the biggest risk to Scotland’s net zero targets.
He said: “Over the course of the last couple of months, in speaking to different organisations and businesses across the sector, if there is one area that is of increasing concern to me, it’s access to labour and it’s skills.
“What is becoming increasingly apparent in some sectors is the skill sets that they need, particularly in the renewables sector, and access to labour in the sector, is becoming increasingly challenging principally as a result of us no longer being members of the European Union.
“There is a potential that that can start to act as a constraint on the scale and the pace of the transition that we see in some aspects of the energy transition which will be necessary.”
He added: “If there is one area that stands out in terms of flashing red lights on my control board, it is access to labour and skills, which could act as a real constraint in the next couple of years.
“There is absolutely no doubt, whatever your politics were on Brexit, it is now acting as a constraint in some sectors.”
Mr Matheson pointed to a company carrying out energy efficiency measures at a district heating project that told him “you could double the amount of contracts that they are being awarded but they would really struggle to take on that work because they no longer have access to the labour that they had previously”, warning the labour shortage is having an“impact on their ability to grow their business”.
Labour has criticised the Scottish Government for failing to bring forward jobs in the renewables sector that were promised by SNP minsiters.
The party’s leader, Anas Sarwar, said: “In 2010, the SNP promised 130,000 green jobs by 2020, a laudable aim to help tackle the climate emergency.
“However, the number of people directly employed has fallen to just over 23,000. The Scottish Government’s £100 million green jobs fund, announced almost a year ago, has yet to create a single job.”
Mr Matheson also told the committee that “the most challenging” area he will need to look at in ensuring Scotland remains on track is the fact that “60% of the measures we will need to take forward in order to achieve our net zero ambitions involve behaviour change”.
Climate experts have pointed to a shift away from car travel towards public transport and active travel and a push for climate-friendly diets, including cutting the amount of red meat consumed, to be brought forward, if Scotland is to hit its targets.
Mr Matheson added: “We know that trying to change people’s behaviour can be extremely challenging and it’s fraught with a whole range of different risks.
“I think it’s important that as we go forward in trying to address these issues that we are open and honest about the nature of what that behaviour change is going to have to look like and that we are politically honest and open about the need to make sure we take forward the policies that can deliver that type of deliver change.”