Debunking Myths about Green Skills

Green skills refer to the abilities, knowledge and competencies required for occupations that contribute to sustainable development and address environmental challenges. However, there are many myths surrounding these skills that often hinder their development and adoption.

On Wednesday 28 March, the European Training Foundation (ETF) hosted a live-stream event, “Busting myths about green skills”, which sought to challenge these misconceptions and establish the real facts, as part of its focus on the role of green and digital skills in the reforms of education and labour market policies in European Union (EU) neighbouring countries. 

The event featured speakers Romain Boitard, ETF’s expert for the green transition and Markus Janser, Institute for Employment Research (IAB), Germany. The event was moderated by Maria Lvova Zolotarevskaya, ETF’s Communication officer.

One of the event’s key messages was that the cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of acting.

“If you look at population displacement,” said Boitard, “you can see that climate change is starting to make it very difficult for people to farm. Soon rising temperatures will make it almost impossible for many to work outside.”

“We have one decade to change humanity’s trajectory,” he added.

Challenging misconceptions

Nearly everybody has a potpourri of knowledge, beliefs, and biases about ‘green skills’: but are they true or false? In this quickfire review, participants had the chance to test themselves and sharpen their ideas against experts in the field.

Myth 1. Green skills are only for people who work in the environmental sector.

True or false?

“False!”, responded Janser. “In Germany, for example, we have at least six million people with occupations that have at least some green skills. The ‘green sector’ is broad: it includes ‘old existing professions’ that have to acquire those skills to contribute to the green society.”

Myth 2. Green skills are only accessible for developed countries.

“True for now…” replied Boitard, “but hopefully false very soon.” Boitard explained that the cumulative share of ‘green profiles’ grew 40% from 2015 to 2021 in high income countries, and 18% in low income. So, for now, richer countries deploy more green skills. “However, all countries need a thriving economy for their social development, and this requires a shift to a green circular economy,” he continued. “First, signatories to the Paris accord must achieve carbon neutrality in the next two decades. But, most importantly, countries that do not invest in greening their economies will find it difficult to remain competitive.”

Countries must limit their environmental impact to export to others with carbon emission regulations. “The EU neighbourhood region is a good example, as most countries export to the EU,” he said.

Myth 3. Green skills are only relevant for new jobs. 

“This is a very popular misconception,” said Janser. “In fact, it is the other way around.”

Janser researched the ‘greening of jobs’ – or change of job content over time - in Germany and found that between 2012 and 2020 there were about 200 ‘new occupations’ with green skills, and of those only a handful required new skills, for example, due to new curricula in vocational training. “Normally transformations take place in existing occupations and only a small share in new occupations,” he said.

Internationally, there are many ‘old school’ occupations, such as chimney sweeps, for example, which today require knowledge about energy efficiency, emission control and so on. Roofers often now fit solar panels on rooftops, “so it is like an enlargement of their skill set,” he said.

Myth 4 Green skills are too expensive to learn and implement.

“False!” replied Boitard. “First, there’s no Plan B. Of course, education has a cost, but it’s also the best investment any country can make to ensure that its human capital is geared to work in a green economy.”

From a business perspective, consumers are increasingly seeking services and products from greener businesses, such as food that is produced organically, or even whether businesses engage with vulnerable groups in their community.

“And even from a learner or professional perspective - green skills’ acquisition is not necessarily more expensive than any other educational subject,” he continued. “In fact, in many cases the technical green skills are learned through subsidized apprenticeships or work-based learning, so may even be a little cheaper.”

At this point a participant intervened to ask what exactly is meant by ‘green skills’ jobs’? Boitard suggested it has three elements: (i) knowledge, for example, about the climate and sustainability; (ii) transversal skills, which are not specifically green, but are often linked to Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and; (iii) technical expertise to maintain green technology and reduce the environmental impact of a particular economic activity. “There are different frameworks, but the ETF uses this one,” he explained.

Another participant queried the idea that hi-tech solutions were the way forward. “That’s a very good question,” Boitard replied. “However, in relation to the latest IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report, if we are to stick to 1.5°, we have to radically reduce carbon emissions, and must therefore use the technology available to us.”

Myth 5 Green skills are only relevant for high-skilled workers.

“False!” responded Janser. “In the German labour market, even in the ‘dark green’ group - occupations that have a high proportion of green skills - about 80% of this labour force is at [medium-] skilled worker level. It is a myth that they are just for high-skilled workers.”

“If you want to work in a job with green skills, then you can find one at every qualification level,” he said.

The final myth considered was that ‘most green jobs are male jobs’.

“Unfortunately, this is true,” Boitard responded. “Gender inequality is maintained by the same structure that assign men and women to particular roles. In terms of green jobs, for now it is men who benefit. An OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] report disaggregated jobs by gender and found that only 28% of green jobs globally are held by women.”

Labour market inequality means that women are more likely to have jobs with limited social mobility, less job security, and the risk of exploitation. Beyond the human rights case there is a business case, because if women were fully-integrated, recruiters would have almost double the choice.

“The maths speaks for itself: women must be included in green skills courses and enrolment,” he concluded.

Did you like this article? If you would like to be notified when new content like this is published, subscribe to receive our email alerts.