Green Jobs Cannot Succeed Without Green Skills

Originally published in Earth.org Hong Kong here

Co-written by Sourajit Aiyer and Prabhat Labh, CEO, Grameen Foundation India

As pushing climate action and creating environmental and social impact becomes mainstream thought, so is the awareness that the future of jobs, as well as skills, is turning a shade of green. The US Department of Labor defines green jobs as those that produce goods and services that benefit our environment and natural resources, and where the employee is involved to make the production and delivery processes more environment friendly, use fewer resources and promote a circular economy. More broadly, a green economy is not just one that replaces extractive activities with regenerative options, but is also one that pushes and sustains economic, gender and racial justice.

A transition to a green economy has the potential to create millions of sustainability jobs. A growing consciousness about sustainability, climate change and carbon footprint as an offshoot of unbridled consumption along with emerging contours of lifestyles in the post-COVID era will push the drive towards green jobs. This growth is likely to more than compensate for the job losses in traditional industries. According to the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook report, adoption of sustainable practices in energy and energy efficiency could create 24 million new jobs globally by 2030, while cutting 6 million jobs in fossil fuel industries. Degradation of the environment and ecosystem apart, heat stress and rising temperatures will impact our jobs and working hours, especially in the agriculture sector.

But this transition cannot occur smoothly unless our workforce, existing as well as new entrants, acquires the necessary skills these green jobs would require. The green economy will not be a reality without integrating green skills into countries’ National Determined Contribution (NDC) targets. A 2019 article by ILO’s Senior Specialist Olga Strietska-Ilina highlights this disconnect as two-thirds of the NDC’s recognise the importance of capacity development, but less than 40% include skills training to support their implementation.

In terms of the sectors that would emerge as a hotbed for green jobs, the 2019 State of Jobs in India report by Grameen Foundation India analyses the potential of green jobs across water, housing, farming, clean energy, waste management, mobility, hospitality, health and other sectors. It identifies the potential of over 3 million green jobs to be created in the country by 2021, although this estimation was made before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In terms of the types of enterprises where such opportunities may arise, it may include green-solutions focused companies (say Germany’s Bio-lutions setting up a plant in India to make cutlery from agri-residue), large companies implementing sustainability strategies into their business models (apart from conglomerates like Pepsi or Tatas, even mid-sized companies in India like Arvind Mills are recycling water to reduce freshwater consumption) or companies that provide niche, green support-services. Even traditional artisan segments are addressing the need for sustainability, which unlocks the scope for green jobs. For instance, a block-printing artisan enterprise in Rajasthan using eco-friendly colours enables the unused wastewater from its production process to be utilised for farming.

The green transition will require sector-specific knowledge and technology to support decision-making, implementation and maintenance of the modified production processes, revamping of communication, analytical and management styles, and changes to how we invest. Mapping the occupational needs and then investing in the relevant skills training are vital. It will also require legal recognition and protection; for instance, the informal sector working in waste picking/recycling are often bereft from identity cards, a basic need for social protection. While skills training programmes are being pushed, there is a need to reorient the investments into skills-training by both the public and private sector to ensure it closes the skills gap for the green economy. There is a need to build marketplaces for sustainable products, like a dedicated market for recycled plastic products or organic foods, which would incentivise the development and job creation in those sectors.

While funding may be a constraint given that many of the green sectors do not yet generate the cash-flow to capture the attention of fund managers, blended finance or outcome-based funding mechanisms may be an opportune way to start.

One must also note that the definition of what comprises a green job and skills is still evolving and not uniform or consistent. Even people working in this space give varying answers to the same question. This implies that the employees must develop a skill-set that is adaptable to different aspects of the field.

With the growing awareness about the environment and social issues amongst the world’s young millennials, interest in green jobs will undoubtedly accelerate as the youth seek to focus their education and careers on areas that they are more passionate about. This will add to the demand pull. At the same time, the supply push to green jobs and skills must be backed by steady regulations, government incentives and the mainstreaming of the green development agenda across employment and skills. It would also require the guidance and forecasting of green skill areas to facilitate relevant vocational and tertiary education programmes.

Ultimately, the potential size of the green economy is enormous, because each sector holds ample scope to become greener. A mind-shift change is visible in many companies and consumers, and this must accelerate. Innovations within existing green sectors are also heartening to see, like floating solar projects that overcome the constraint of onerous land acquisition rules for utility-scale solar projects. But while the sky is the limit, it would be prudent to focus on a few sectors as a low-hanging fruit and ramp up the initiatives towards skills-training for those sectors first. Without the necessary skills, any discourse on green jobs and its realisation in any sector of our economy will remain a pipedream!

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