Jobs and the Future of Work

The green skills imperative: How can we create a future that works for all?

energy transition low-carbon economy develop green skills

The world of work can play a critical role in transitioning to a low-carbon economy, though that will depend on our ability to develop green skills. Image: Unsplash/Jason Goodman

Karin Reiter
Senior Vice-President, Sustainability and Environmental, Social and Governance, Adecco Group
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  • Climate change is already impacting labour markets, with millions having left or lost their jobs with unprecedented disruption in recent years.
  • The world of work can play a critical role in transitioning to a low-carbon economy, though that will depend on our ability to develop green skills.
  • By investing in such skills, governments, businesses and individuals can work together to create a more sustainable world that works for everyone.

Climate change is real. It is undeniably already upon us. And if this summer is any indication, it will likely get worse: heat waves and raging wildfires, food insecurity and water shortages, deforestation and biodiversity loss will continue to have devastating consequences for our world and our working lives if we don’t change our practices.

Millions are already displaced and in search of new beginnings elsewhere, because their homes and livelihoods fell victim to the impact of climate change. It’s clear that the true impact of climate change is far-reaching, impacting local labour markets and global supply chains as well.

Labour markets have already been under a lot of pressure. We’ve witnessed millions of workers leaving their jobs amid a period of unprecedented instability and disruption in search of roles that offer better subsistence, working conditions and work-life balance.

Have you read?

First, there was the “Great Resignation”, where millions of workers voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021. Then we witnessed the “Great Reshuffle”, where employees began searching for more fulfilling roles and purpose in their work. Now, workers and employers alike are coming to a crucial realization: the workforce has deep existing green skills imbalances, brought about by big shifts in the world of work, like digitalization.

The world of work plays a critical role in transitioning to a low-carbon economy, though that transition is dependent on our capabilities and capacity to identify, assess, and develop green skills.

Here, we outline some of the insights from The Adecco Group’s research paper, Skills for the Green Economy, and explain how organizations in both private and public sectors need to start prioritizing people, investing in their ongoing employability, and leveraging skills to boost the transition to a more sustainable economy.

Prioritizing green skills development

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 need to consider that:

  • More than 1.47 billion jobs globally depend on a stable climate, and that progressing innovation means that many jobs are yet to be invented. The room – and need – for green skills development cannot be underestimated.
  • In phasing out fossil fuels, some sectors (and geographies) will be hit harder than others, particularly the energy and automotive industries.
  • Consumers and workers are increasingly holding companies accountable and changing their choices; companies will need to offer socially and environmentally sustainable solutions to become future-proof.

Opportunities of the green transition

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

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

Governments have a crucial role to play in driving the shift to green skills economy. Smart policymaking makes a decisive difference in ensuring an inclusive transition, particularly if it considers 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. That’s why it is crucial to maintain labour market mobility and flexibility.
  • Workforce is a key asset. As such, investment into it should not be considered a cost – instead, investing in workforce development should be amortisable.

Employers should be proactive themselves, not least as they remain one of the most trusted stakeholders in transitions. They should:

  • Start mapping green skills requirements and get reskilling and reemploying under way 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, vocational education and training, and other forms of work-based learning to build their own talent pool and create diverse entry points into the organization – and labour market more broadly
  • 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
Key actions opportunities green skills green economy government employers individuals
Key actions to take to realise the opportunities of the green economy Image: Adecco

Skilling and the green transition are not a one-way street, however. The green economy and the transition towards a more sustainable future will undoubtedly impact the demand for skills in the labour market.

On the other hand, it is important to note that without skilling, any progress towards the green transition would be impossible. Skills and the green economy shape each other.

Invest in skills for a just green transition

By embracing investing in green skills, all stakeholders can contribute to making sure that the transition towards the green economy is just, and that nobody gets left behind.

That is why it is essential for all stakeholders, including governments, businesses, and workers, to collaborate on 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 white paper now and read in more detail how the world can become more sustainable, what specific measures governments, businesses and individuals can – and should – do to help, and how the energy industry and the automotive sector will be impacted.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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