The Jobs Of Tomorrow — How Do CleanTech Skills Fare?

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Technological, social, and political transformations have shaped economies and the capacity of individuals to make a living over the centuries. As we look to the jobs of tomorrow, all indications are that across countries and supply chains demand for employment in non-routine analytics jobs will be accompanied by significant automation of routine manual jobs.

In the near term that very automation, reinforced by the covid-19 major recession, is creating a double-disruption scenario for workers. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 concludes “the combined health and economic shocks of 2020 have put economies into free fall, disrupted labor markets, and fully revealed the inadequacies of our social contracts.” The report provides in-depth information for 15 industry sectors and 26 advanced and emerging countries.

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But the news is not all bad. The Jobs Report 2020 argues that today’s technological innovation can be leveraged to unleash human potential if workers are given opportunities to “reskill” and “upskill” as a way to protect displaced workers from destitution and to propel them toward the jobs of tomorrow where they will be able to thrive. Already, companies across the energy spectrum are investing billions to adapt digital technology to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

The Jobs Report 2020 maps the jobs and skills of the future, tracking the pace of change based on surveys of business leaders and human resource strategists from around the world. It aggregates the views of business leaders — chief executives, chief strategy officers, and chief human resources officers — on the frontlines of decision-making regarding human capital. It brings together the latest data from public and private sources to create a clearer picture of both the current situation and the future outlook for jobs of tomorrow and skills.

jobs of tomorrow
Image retrieved from NOAA (public domain)

Automation will Restructure Entire Workforces

The workforce is automating faster than expected, displacing 85 million jobs in the next 5 years. Companies’ adoption of technology will transform tasks, jobs, and skills by 2025. Data from the Forum’s Future of Jobs Survey shows that companies expect to restructure their workforce in response to new technologies, in particular:

  • transforming the composition of their value chain (55%)
  • introducing further automation and reducing the current workforce (43%)
  • expanding their workforce as a result of deeper technological integration (34%)
  • expanding their use of contractors for task-specialized work (41%)

The Jobs Report estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labor between humans and machines, while 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms. Elon Musk and Tesla have created a machine manufacturing revolution, foreshadowing the cleantech workplace of tomorrow. Manufacturers across the globe and their workers will soon see such machine manufacturing as the norm.

The Robot Revolution is Here

Automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence are the future of manufacturing.

Integrating physical and digital technologies, emerging information and communications technology (ICT) advances in areas such as robotics, analytics, artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies, nanotechnology, and quantum computing are already transforming what and how things are made or done. ICTs are taking an increasingly prominent role in multiple aspects of the transmission and distribution of electricity: optimization, electricity generation process, service orientation and interoperability, and data integration.

Cleantech is already embracing the robot revolution. Drones are combating the spread of wildfires and keeping affected areas healthy. Robots are opening up a chemical-free agricultural future. By inspecting turbine blades from one end to the other, using suction cups to keep it from falling off, robots are making wind power more efficient. The Boston funkadelic robots capture not only our curiosity but cleantech probable applications.

The robot revolution will create 97 million new jobs of tomorrow. The emerging professions reflect the greater demand for green economy jobs, roles at the forefront of the data and AI economy, and new roles in engineering, cloud computing, and product development.

I Think, Therefore I Am Employable

With energy consumption and natural resource use rising steadily, changemakers in energy and clean technology are tackling the impact on our natural world by improving efficiency, developing renewable energy sources, and reducing waste and emissions. By 2025, analytical thinking, creativity, and flexibility will be among the most sought-after job skills. Employers see critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving as growing in importance in the coming years. Skills in self-management, such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility, will become essential for the cleantech workforce of the future.

Companies hope to internally redeploy nearly 50% of a thinking workforce displaced by technological automation and augmentation, as opposed to making wider use of layoffs and automation-based labor savings as a core workforce strategy. And the pay will continue to support the transition. Workers in renewable energy, energy efficiency, grid modernization and storage, clean fuels, and clean vehicles already earned a median hourly wage of $23.89 in 2019 compared with the national median wage of $19.14.

The up-and-coming jobs emphasize the continuing importance of human interaction in marketing, sales, and content production and in roles that depend on the ability to work with different types of people from different backgrounds. To get there, we can start by educating the next generation openly and honestly about cleantech, as it’s our responsibility to help them understand how together, we can make a difference in the future of our planet through their use of zero emissions devices and equipment. A cleantech workforce will need a semi-technical understanding of how energy is generated and transmitted, how new technologies work, and the technical barriers and opportunities that exist.

jobs of tomorrow
Image retrieved from NASA (public domain)

Retraining for Core Skills = Imperative

The US is on the verge of having a president who promises to add millions of good paying jobs through investments in clean energy and energy efficiency. We’re moving from a place in which jobs in US clean tech are outpacing employment in the fossil fuel sector to a future in which individuals and fleets should be able to sell electricity stored in their electric vehicles as well as stationary batteries. The survey found that the public sector needs to provide stronger support for reskilling and upskilling of at-risk or displaced workers. Reskilling refers to the training of workers to take on new roles or tasks, and it has also come to also more broadly signify efforts by organizations and/or government entities to address looming changes and/or challenges resulting from increasing automation of work historically led by humans.

The most competitive businesses will focus on upgrading their workers’ skills. On average, employers expect to offer reskilling and upskilling to just over 70% of their employees by 2025. Despite the current economic downturn, the large majority of employers recognize the value of human capital investment. An average of 66% of employers surveyed expect to get a return on investment in upskilling and reskilling within one year. For workers set to remain in their roles over the next 5 years, nearly half will need retraining for their core skills. However, employee engagement into those courses is lagging, with only 42% of employees taking up employer-supported reskilling and upskilling opportunities. As example, in 2017 software development company Bit Source began to recruit displaced coal workers and train them to become developers.

The window of opportunity to reskill and upskill workers has become shorter in the newly constrained labor market. This applies to workers who are likely to stay in their roles as well as those who risk losing their roles due to rising recession-related unemployment and can no longer expect to retrain at work. For those workers set to remain in their roles, the share of core skills that will change in the next five years is 40%, and 50% of all employees will need reskilling (up 4%).

Currently, however, only 21% of businesses report being able to make use of public funds to support their employees through retraining initiatives. The public sector must provide incentives for investment in the markets and jobs of tomorrow, offer stronger safety nets for displaced workers during job transitions, and tackle long-delayed improvements of education and training systems.

Working from Home? You May Stay There

For over half a century, economic thinkers have been able to track the benefits of expanding human skills and capabilities to economic prosperity. With the covid-19 pandemic, the way we work changed considerably, as more employers came to understand how human productivity could remain high with an off-site workforce.

The Future of Jobs Survey indicates that company adaptation to the newly remote and hybrid workplace is already underway. Remote work is here to stay. Currently, one-third of those surveyed in the US want to work from home. Some 84% of employers are set to rapidly digitalize work processes, including a significant expansion of remote working. Employers say there is the potential to move 44% of their workforce to operate remotely. However, 78% of business leaders expect some negative impact on worker productivity, and many businesses are taking steps to help their employees adapt.

The future of jobs of tomorrow has already arrived for a large majority of the online white-collar workforce. To address concerns about productivity and well-being, about one-third of all employers expect to also take steps to create a sense of community, connection, and belonging among employees through digital tools and to tackle the well-being challenges posed by the shift to remote work.

Final Thoughts about CleanTech & Jobs of Tomorrow

How far we have come! In 2012, the Global Cleantech 100 List cited energy efficiency, biofuels & biochemicals, smart grid, renewable energy, water and waste, and transportation as the sectors most likely to make a significant market impact over the next decade. Don’t these now seem an integral part of our infrastructures?

The 2021 Global Cleantech 100 has many similarities with its 2012 report but also shifts focus to specific areas of need within the original categories — agriculture & food, enabling technologies, energy & power, materials & chemicals, transportation & logistics, and resources & environment. These emphases make sense as more governments and businesses recognize that the jobs of tomorrow will be part of a decarbonized, decentralized, and digitized world.

Companies need to invest in better metrics of human and social capital through adoption of environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and matched with renewed measures of human capital accounting. A significant number of cleantech and clean energy business leaders understand that reskilling employees, particularly in industry coalitions and in public-private collaborations, is both cost-effective and has significant mid- to long-term dividends — not only for their enterprise but also for the benefit of society more broadly.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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