Green Jobs & The Global Skills Gap

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The green economy affects the growth of human well-being and social equality while reducing environmental threats and the use of natural resources. Countries which envision their economies within a green paradigm are now creating new conditions to support this transformation. Innovation transfer and corporate social responsibility are consistent with the overall goals of the sustainability transition and can lead the way to green jobs — the career path for many in Generation Alpha.**

To get there, however, companies and governments need to break down barriers and illuminate socio- economic benefits of green jobs through policies and actions for educating, attracting, retaining, and exploring the capabilities of interested and diverse workers.

The green economy seeks to reduce environmental risks and ecological scarcities through processes ideally characterized by purposefulness. In green industries, changes express themselves in the transformation of a firm’s elements and relations among them, as well as relations taking place between the enterprise and its culture. To infuse green jobs and skills into a changing energy world, restructuring needs to take place in systemic ways that promote direct connections to customer needs, growth of competitiveness in the field, adaptations to legal regulations, and rethinking of how business activity is conducted.

Green Jobs Need Green Skills But People Don’t Feel Prepared

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our times. Many people feel powerless to reverse the damage to our planet. The complexities involved in achieving this are without historical precedent. To shift from a global economy that extracts and degrades to one that is reciprocal and sustainable, we must start with education.

The concept of “green jobs” has its foundation within a triumvirate: job creation, economic prosperity, and the transition to a low-carbon economy. It is understood that all these elements need to work in a gestalt — so that the sum of the parts is stronger than any of the individual elements. Green jobs cannot be solely delegated to the silo of economic development ambitions. They must be supported and sought as part of climate protection, taking into account the factors that affect the formation and maintenance of such work.

Dissonance in obtaining green job cohesion is evident in the 2021 “Global Learner Survey: Climate Change” from Pearson, which revealed that 59% of people in the US feel they have little to no knowledge of “green skills.”

While many people of the 1,000 adults surveyed explained that their education included basic climate subjects like “the weather,” there was an increasing need for deeper environmental and climate knowledge, especially with many industries expecting significant growth in green jobs over the next 10 years.

  • 77% believe they would need to build different skills or complete additional training to work in a green job field.
  • 77% say they would support government efforts to retrain people for environment friendly jobs.
  • 82% support providing workers in the US with subsidized training for green jobs.
  • 45% are likely to look for employment in a field that has a direct impact on the environment.

Among all people in the US, Pearson says that 68% believe the US government or energy companies should be responsible for providing and paying for green job training, with Hispanic Americans (71%) most strongly supporting the initiative. Pearson also asked 5,000 people in 5 countries how much education they’ve had on climate change. The results? Not enough. People are rushing to make up ground with more education and training for themselves to address the global effects of the climate crisis.

green jobs

Tensions in the Transformation to Green Jobs & Skills

Via a discrete choice experiment, a sample of urban residents that contribute to their household electricity bill in Aguascalientes, Mexico were asked to choose from among 4 electricity contracts — a status quo alternative, and 3 alternatives described in terms of type of renewable energy source (RES), % of RES in current electricity mix, new jobs in RE sector, and % increase in self-reported bimonthly electricity bill. Respondents reported a positive willingness to pay for both RES and new jobs in RE sector and a higher willingness to pay for solar energy in comparison to biomass energy.

These results point out the inherent tensions that exist — not just in Mexico but globally — due to disparate energy strategies pursued by governments. Urban planning needs to acknowledge and incorporate policies to meet the desires of urban dwellers who want a just energy transition aiming to boost both RES and the creation of green jobs.

Additionally, mitigation policies have significant effects on jobs. Energy policies that aim to reduce dependence on coal have led to job losses in particular geographical areas and among specific parts of the work force. But mitigation can also drive job creation through investment in renewable energy, eco- and energy-efficient construction, or improved waste management.

Moreover, green jobs vary in “greenness,” with very few jobs consisting strictly of green tasks. Thus, green tasks need to be considered as part of a continuum rather than a binary characteristic.  And, while green jobs have many benefits, new recyclable materials, new more ecological designs, and new work processes may generate new occupational hazards.

How Higher Education Can Help to Create Green Careers

An article in Geography, Urban Studies, and Planning outlines the conditions that promote the development, growth, and maintenance of green jobs in an economy.

  1. Clean energy policies and regulation have been found an important accelerator of green jobs in US metropolitan areas, as have direct funding of and subsidies for sustainable products and services, for instance, green building practices.
  2. The extent to which firms are environmentally challenged—through policies and regulation, but also factors such as resource dependency and local weather patterns—have been found to be related with green job development and growth.
  3. The demand for green products and services — “green consumption” — is another condition that is often found as related to the development and growth of green jobs in an economy.

Higher education can have a significant impact as an engine of growth for the green economy and, specifically, on the development of green jobs. In addition to traditional jobs in agriculture and forestry, new careers in environmental management in industry, green banking, development of energy efficient technology, and enforcement of environmental policies and regulation are opening up as parts of green sectors.

Deep-knowledge, analytical capacity, and an inherent motivation for life-long learning are needed for dealing with complex climate change action and environmental issues. Since institutions of higher education are well-versed in training and retraining students in these skills, they’re good sites as industry models.

Higher education is a fine starting place for the transition to green jobs — but much more education and training is necessary to transition our society to zero emissions.

**Generation Alpha describes individuals born between 2010 and 2025.

Images provided by Pearson

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., 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 Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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