Climate change and environmental degradation are jeopardising livelihoods and future sustainability in many areas of economic activity around the world
Alongside other drivers of change such as globalisation and rapid technological change, they are causing important shifts in labour markets and skills needs. Public policies and enterprise strategies in many areas follow calls for innovative, clean and greener economies. Availability of skills for green jobs plays a crucial role in triggering change and facilitating just and timely transitions.
Paying close attention to skills and the occupation requirements of green economy strategies is crucial since the shift to greener economies brings about structural changes in national labour markets. The green transition affects mainly existing occupations but new job profiles, especially at higher skill levels, also emerge. The occupational profiles across sectors will change and require for the most part new and different skills.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Cedefop launched a global research project
It aims to investigate skills needs for structural shifts caused by greening the economy, new and changing occupational profiles, and major skills constraints.
Many examples of good practice demonstrate that public policy, together with private initiatives, can foster expansion of green transformation and harness energy efficiency and renewable energy potential, all of which requires transformation of the skills base. Skills development responses need to focus on adding to existing competences, emphasising core skills, including those in mathematics, engineering, technology and science. Every job can potentially become greener. Understanding the environmental impact of a job, and its possible contribution to greener economies, needs to be mainstreamed into education and training systems. Integrating sustainable development and environmental issues into existing qualifications and capturing new and emerging skill needs on the greening job market are a massive task.
Green skills are those skills needed to adapt products, services and processes to climate change and the related environmental requirements and regulations.
Cedefop defines green skills as “the knowledge, abilities, values and attitudes needed to live in, develop and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society” (Cedefop, 2012). Green skills will be needed by all sectors and at all levels in the workforce.
The successful transition to a low carbon economy will only be possible by ensuring that workers are able to adapt and transfer from areas of decreasing employment to other industries and that human capital exists and is maximised to develop new industries.
While it’s not easy to say how many jobs will be created and/or destroyed by the greening of the economy, it is certain that the ongoing process of transformation of the economy will lead to significant changes in labour demand both between and within economic sectors.
Greening the economy will affect skills needs in three ways:
- Structural changes lead to increased demand for some occupations and decreases for others;
- New economic activity will create new occupations and there will be a need for new skills profiles and qualification and training frameworks;
- Many existing occupations and industries will experience greening changes to tasks within their jobs, and this will require adjustments to the current training and qualification frameworks for these occupations.
The Green Jobs Report estimated that efforts to tackle climate change could result in the creation of millions of new “green jobs” in the coming decades.
This assessment was made as part of the Green Jobs Initiative, a joint effort launched by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the International Organization of Employers (IOE), and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to help governments and social partners turn this potential for decent work into reality by aligning environment and employment objectives.
The green transformation shifts activities in the economy, for example from those that are less energy efficient and generate higher CO2 emissions towards those that are more efficient and less polluting. This type of transformation occurs at industry level, causing structural shifts in economic activity, and thus in employment, between and within industries. This is called green restructuring. Structural changes, in turn, decrease demand for some occupations and skill profiles and increase demand for others. An example of this source of change in skill requirements would be the growth of alternative and renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power, and the relative decline in the production and use of fossil fuels. It calls for training to enable workers and enterprises to move from declining to growing sectors and occupations. Second, structural changes, the introduction of new regulations, and the development of new technologies and practices result in the emergence of some entirely new occupations. This process is very much country specific. For example, a solar technician is often mentioned as a new occupation in those countries where solar energy is a new technology. Emerging occupations call for the provision of relevant training courses and the adjustment of qualification and training systems. Third, new skills will be needed by workers in many existing occupations and industries in the process of greening existing jobs. For example, within the automotive industry, workers across a range of jobs from engineering design to the assembly line will have to work with new fuel efficient technologies. In another example, farmers in many parts of the world will have to adjust to more severe drought conditions, requiring them to learn how to grow new crops or new methods for producing the same crops. This source of change in skill requirements is the most widespread: in fact, it will be pervasive, and calls for a major effort to revise existing curricula, qualification standards and training programmes at all levels of education and training.
The analysis of countries’ experience revealed that skill shortages already constrain the transition to a greener economy
In terms of preparing for some new occupations and in terms of changing the skill profile of a large number of occupations. The research also documented the need to provide opportunities for acquiring new skills to those who are at risk of losing jobs in high-emissions industries. Countries’ experiences in adapting training provision to meet all of these needs vary. Some countries are developing innovative strategies and policies to proactively anticipate and address emerging skill needs; others adjust existing mechanisms and systems on a more ad-hoc basis. The report has assembled case studies across a wide spectrum of challenges, documenting a broad array of approaches to promote the transition to greener workplaces with sustainable, productive and decent employment.
Environmental and climate change policies bring enormous employment opportunities but also the risks associated with structural changes. Countries need coherent strategies that bring together energy, environment, education and skills development objectives, policies and responsible ministries in order to adapt to climate change and shift to clean and sustainable production and consumption in ways that maximize creation of decent work and make it available to all.
Every job can potentially become greener.
Integration of sustainable development and environmental awareness into education and training at all levels, starting from early childhood education, is an important task. It will contribute to changing consumer behaviour and triggering market forces to push the greening agenda ahead.
The transition to a greener economy has enormous employment potential in the long run, creating millions of jobs both directly, and indirectly through supply chains. The challenge for environmental policy is to choose policy options that maximize productive and decent work, and the challenge for skills development policy is to integrate environmental awareness and the right technical training for green jobs into education and training provision. Thus policy objectives in the two areas are mutually supportive: without a suitably trained workforce the transformation to a greener economy will stall, and without the imperative of meeting environmental challenges the need for accelerated job growth may go unmet.
The country studies revealed that skill shortages already pose a major barrier to transitions to green economies and the creation of green jobs
A trend which is likely to be exacerbated in the future. Skill shortages for green jobs stem from a number of factors, including underestimated growth of certain green sectors, for example in energy efficiency in buildings; a general shortage of scientists and engineers – a problem shared by economies at all development levels; the low reputation and attractiveness of some sectors, such as waste management; and the general structure of the national skill base. Shortages of teachers and trainers in environmental awareness subjects and in fast-growing green sectors (e.g. renewable energy, energy efficiency) are reported in many countries, especially in developing economies.
The growing importance of sustainable development and the shift to a low-carbon economy are increasing the pace of change in labour markets and skill needs. Economies moving towards greener production can seize this potential for job creation if they can deal effectively with the coming structural change and transformation of existing jobs. Environmental awareness as an integral part of education and training at all levels, introduced as a core skill from early childhood education onwards, will eventually push consumer behaviour and preferences and the market itself. For effective and targeted responses, the close involvement of all stakeholders concerned is key. Where this is achieved, there is most likely to be a sustained and just transition to a greener economy.