The green transition, skills and the neighbourhood

The European Green Deal has set ambitious targets for tackling climate change. The European Union sees the transition to clean circular carbon-neutral economies and societies as a driver of the post-Covid recovery. What role do skills play in this transition, and what does it mean for the countries surrounding the European Union? The European Training Foundation spoke to Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, to find out more.

What is the European Green Deal, and where do skills come in?

A. The European Green Deal is an ambitious strategy to make the EU's economy environmentally sustainable. The aim is to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050, decouple economic growth from resource use, and do this in a way that leaves no one, and no place behind.  

This means big changes in the economy and in society. It means transforming the way we produce, distribute and consume, and how we house, power and transport ourselves. These rapid and bold changes have been accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis.

So, we see on the one hand big changes, forcing businesses to adapt with new technology and new models, and at the same time an unprecedented economic crisis with lockdowns and a recession deeper than the financial crisis of 2008.

This creates enormous pressure on societies and especially on employment. We won’t be able to master and manage these changes without large-scale development of the right skills to make this transformation happen. If delivering on the Green Deal is at the centre of our policy strategy, training workers must be too.

Training workers has always been central to our economic and social efforts. This applies to those who are already in the job market as much as to those not yet in the job market, that is to say young people. Educating young people is key. And what we teach them is equally important. We need to link education to future job markets and to the skills needed for future jobs. Not only scientific and technological skills, but also soft skills, which are more and more important, and are very often the weak part in our education programmes. But at the same time, we have a huge need for upskilling and reskilling people who will transition from one job to another or want to grow in their present one.

The effort to invest in skills needed by the greening of our economies, and to smooth the reallocation of employment, which will be one of our major challenges, especially after this health crisis, requires a skills revolution to accompany the green revolution. Skills intelligence is a very important tool to better understand which skills are most needed. If we do not manage the skills mismatches and skills gaps, it will not only impact our economic potential, but also and especially our social cohesion. Skills is a matter of Europe’s competitiveness, but also a question of social fairness. If people feel they are losing out from this transformation, it will have consequences.

What does the Green Deal mean for the countries neighbouring the European Union?

Climate change, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss do not respect national boundaries. These are global phenomena, and they require a global response. The Green Deal is not only a project for Europe, but also for Europe in the world. It is a key strand in our diplomacy at global level.

The European Union’s external assistance instruments for 2021-27 are in the final stages of adoption. The European Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) foresees a budget of at least €19.32 billion for the Neighbourhood. This will be complemented by the third generation Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA III) with a proposed budget of €14.5 billion. The EU has as a target to spend 25% of its funding across the board on activities related to climate and environmental action. The EU will also boost its support to sustainable investment worldwide under the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus (EFSD+), which aims at leveraging private capital to complement direct external cooperation grants.

The countries neighbouring the EU have already discussed their areas of cooperation in terms of digital innovation and sustainable fair and resilient economies. The countries that are engaged in the accession process are priority. But similar cooperation is developing also with our neighbours to the East and the South, as well as with the other countries on the African continent.

The green economy, including sectors such as renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, green construction, water conservation, waste recycling, has huge potential to drive growth and job creation worldwide. Job creation is vital, especially in countries that young people are leaving because they have no prospects. And here there is a big challenge, not only to invest in sustainable technologies, but to invest in skilling and upskilling young people, notably through vocational training, so they have opportunities to work in these new sectors.

 What role do you see for the ETF in this?

In its role as a bridge between the European Union and its partner countries in the area of human capital development, the ETF has work to do in supporting countries in adapting their skills systems to the demands of the green transition and ensuring that EU external assistance in this area contributes to sustainable reforms that promote resilience and adaptability in the face of global disruptions.

Investing in human capital for the new economy of the 21st century is vital. I encourage the ETF in its efforts to support the reform agendas of our neighbours to the South and East in order to equip people with the skills they need for life and work in the world of the future. The ETF can help find ways to enable people of all ages and stages in life, regardless of their labour market status, to develop future-oriented job-relevant competences so they can take advantage of emerging opportunities and improve their life chances. This is vital for the millions of young people, particularly in the global South, who yearn for better prospects.

Training courses should include digital and other technical and professional skills, naturally, but above all the soft skills - creativity, teamwork, communication, problem solving – combined with a can-do mindset. The most important natural resource of any society is its people. A country can realise its potential only insofar as its people can realise theirs.  

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