Skills For The Green Economy: Why Investing In People Is Key

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Climate change is real. But how do we best mitigate its expectedly negative impacts on labour markets and turn them into opportunities for the future? The answer rests in skills and reskilling. Read our new white paper “Skills for the Green Economy” to learn how skills can boost our transition to a more sustainable economy.

January 25, 2021

This article was co-authored by Bettina Schaller, the Head of Group Public Affairs at the Adecco Group and Karin Reiter, the Adecco Group's Global Head of Sustainability

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Our climate is changing, and the impact this is having on our planet, lives, and livelihoods is profound. But while humans are often perceived merely as the cause of the problem, we believe that our behavior is and should also be seen as key to dealing with global warming's negative consequences. We need a Green Transition, and to facilitate this, it is paramount that we put skills and reskilling at the forefront of our efforts.

Whether it is about phasing out fossil fuels, delivering climate-friendly business practices, accelerating digitization and automation, or new work models – we need skillful individuals. The Green Transition process won't be easy. Still, with the right mix of policies by governments and the right approach by businesses and individuals, we can move towards a more sustainable future while safeguarding the livelihoods of those most affected by this transition.

To explain how this can be done, the Adecco Group has published a white paper, "Skills for the Green Economy." The report illustrates how investing in the right skills is an essential condition to achieving this urgently needed Green Transition and outlines actions that can and should be taken to mitigate negative impacts on our labour markets.

Challenges of the Green Transition

While in recent years we have seen the global community moving into action by, for instance, agreeing on the landmark Paris Agreement, much more remains to be done at the national and local levels. To ensure that the Green Transition is a success, we need to pay more attention to the role human capital and skills play in delivering a sustainable change.

Skills and their potential are often overlooked when designing national strategies, to the detriment of businesses and workers.

Without skills development, it is estimated that the global economy could shed as many as 71 million jobs in its move towards becoming circular. On the other hand, smart policies and investment in reskilling could reverse this prospect, so much so that the energy sector alone could produce a net growth of 18 Million jobs.

Any successful transition strategy will, therefore, need to take into account that:

  • More than 1,47 billion jobs globally depend on a stable climate, and that as much as 85% of all jobs in 2030 have not been invented yet. The room for skills development cannot be underestimated.
  • In phasing out fossil fuels, some sectors will be hit harder than others, particularly the energy and automotive industries (find more detail on these two industries in the paper’s Sector deep-dive section).
  • Consumers will change their behavior, and companies will need to offer socially and environmentally sustainable solutions to become future proof.
  • There will be a shift towards producing more sustainable products and offering services to prolong their lifetimes.

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Governments will need to become smart about tackling these challenges. When drafting their policies, the decision-makers will need to consider that:

  • Changes to industries will occur in different geographies at different times. While job losses may be instant, job creation will be more gradual. To that end, governments will need to protect workers rather than jobs.
  • Not all jobs will automatically reappear in the same industries they were lost in. That’s why it is crucial to maintain labour market mobility and flexibility.
  • Workforce investment should not be considered a cost – instead, investing in workforce development should be amortisable.


Opportunities of the Green Transition

While these challenges are by no means easy to deal with, when addressed properly, they can lead to numerous opportunities for governments, businesses, and individual workers. More generally speaking, smart green policies can, among other things, lead to:

  • Better skilled and future proof workforce
  • Functional labour markets with sophisticated educational systems
  • Inclusive social protection systems

Employers, while benefiting from governments’ green policies, should be proactive themselves. They should:

  • Start mapping skills requirements and get reskilling and reemploying underway to get ahead of the curve;
  • Make sustainable employment and skills investment their brand advantage to attract the right talent and retain the right skills for future success;
  • Make use of apprenticeships, VET, and other forms of work-based learning to build their own talent pool;
  • Promote flexibility and leverage workforce expertise by putting the individual at the centre of the transformation.

In the meantime, Individuals are encouraged to:

  • Become pro-active and take ownership of their own skillset by continually seeking skilling opportunities;
  • Embrace career flexibility;
  • Realise that their skills have an expiration date and that lifelong learning is a prerequisite to improving one’s future employability.

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Skilling and the green transition are not a one-way street, however. On the one hand, the green economy and the transition towards a more sustainable future will undoubtedly impact the demand for skills on the labour market. On the other hand, it is important to note that without skilling any progress towards the green transition would be impossible to begin with. Skills and the Green Economy shape each other. By embracing investing into skills, all stakeholders can contribute to making sure that the transition towards the green economy is fair and that nobody gets left behind. That is why it is essential for all stakeholders, including governments, businesses, and workers, to collaborate in a New Social Contract and ensure we move forward together – towards a future that works for everyone.

Download the full “Skills for the Green Economy” whitepaper now and read in more detail how the world can become more sustainable, what exactly governments, businesses and individuals can - and should - do to help, and how the energy industry and the automotive sector will be impacted.