"The demand for green skills is soaring." An interview with Romain Boitard
Today, everyone agrees that the transition to a greener world is a pressing priority. We need to increase the use of renewable energy and decrease the amount of waste produced, and protect biodiversity from human encroachment and exploitation. So, if everyone agrees, why aren’t we there yet?
One important reason is that we need skills – lots of skills! We need many more people with the skills we already have as well as a workforce with a completely new set of competences and capabilities. For people whose jobs are at risk of obsolescence, we need to provide re-skilling and upskilling opportunities so that nobody gets left by the roadside as the train of the green transition gains speed.
Did anyone say ‘skills’?
The ETF is almost synonymous with skills so in the EU drive towards a green transition in Europe and beyond, the ETF takes a prominent role. And the EU drive is strong: one-third of the external support budget of the EU is now earmarked for activities related to the green transition and 2023 has been made the European Year of Skills. For the ETF, it’s all coming to a head.
“Green skills have been discussed for decades,” says Romain Boitard, the ETF’s green skills expert, “but where in the past there would have been some dissent on the urgency of the matter, that now seems to have almost faded. We need a green transition and we need it now. And for a green transition we need green skills.”
But what exactly are green skills? Are they just the skills people need for employment in renewable energy, recycling and biodiversity?
“No, or at least not only! This is a common misconception!” Boitard exclaims. “Green skills are the competences, behaviours, attitudes and values that are required for an individual to contribute positively to sustainability. Green skills are the skills needed to live in a clean world and work in a carbon-neutral economy.”
This definition opens the door for green skills to span a much broader set of qualities that can impact not only the green transition, but also a raft of social issues, such as inequality and social inclusion.
“Our economic model has generated inequality and pollution. We have never polluted so much in our history. Inequality is increasing, not only in the global south but also in the EU. Improving sustainability is not just a matter of cleaning up. The green transition is a shift towards a green and fair economy, and that’s not because fair equals green but because making it green is not going to work without making it fair. If you are poor, your priority will be to survive, rather than contemplating the environmental impact of your decisions.”
Skills for the green transition
“To clear up some of the misunderstandings, we have stopped talking about green skills and instead started referring to skills for the green transition,” says Boitard.
“Let’s take a less obvious example. Most people will automatically associate green skills with solar panel installation and waste processing but look at accountants. Nobody thinks of the job of an accountant as particularly green but from now on, accounting will not just cover finances, but also carbon emission calculations.”
As we said earlier, the ETF is all about skills and the agency has gone all-in on green skills – not just as an add-on, but by reviewing a lot of ongoing ETF work and validating its value in the framework of support to the green transition.
“Put simply, we do three things here,” Boitard explains. “We research what is happening out there and we analyse and disseminate through our communication channels and multiple networks of practitioners. The idea is to ensure our work is read and utilised, sometimes by creating buzz.”
“We conduct research – action research, mostly – to fully understand how the sustainability drive affects occupations and the demand for them and how the green transition affects labour markets and training systems. We do that in all our partner countries.”
“Some of this work is new: we are in the process of mapping national sustainability development policies. This has taught us that most countries address sustainability in the development plans for certain sectors, but they rarely consider the skills implications of their projections. Through this, we have also found some excellent examples that can become learning points for others, such as recent progress in Morocco.”
“Once we have the information, we move on to our second core activity: we communicate it and create opportunities for peer learning between partner countries and also between the EU and partner countries. We have a number of networks for dialogue, but we also communicate directly with partner country authorities.”
Greening up our act
“Some of these networks have been active for many years but their focus has now moved towards the green transition because of how it pervades training and the labour market. Adult education and lifelong learning are now in the spotlight, in good part because of the enormous reskilling challenges brought about by the green transition in countries whose energy sectors were dominated by fossil fuels.”
“Another example would be the Future of Work project. This is a research methodology through which we assess how the demand for skills is changing. We looked, for example, at the energy transition in Egypt and how that is driving the need for new skills. We looked at the agrifood sector in Morocco and Israel, the construction sector in Armenia and the automotive sector in Turkey, to name but a few. In most cases, we expected to see that digitalisation would be the biggest driver of change, but it was not. It was consistently sustainability.”
“As another example we have GRETA, an ever expanding peer learning network which gathers best practice and disseminates it through seminars and webinars.”
And the buzz?
“Yes, the third thing we do is creating buzz, making sure that skills for the green transition not only make their way to the top of policy priorities but that they also stay there. Our most important tool for this is the annual Green Skills Award. The award is an opportunity for us to flagship innovation and bring up the issue in social media and to get non-experts to discuss and exchange.
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