There’s no green transition without skills

The role of career guidance and adult education in achieving a just and green transition

The European Training Foundation is at EU Green Week, with ETF expert Romain Boitard talking about the importance of career guidance and adult education and training opportunities.

In the face of the pandemic, increasing digitalisation, and the imperative to move towards a net-zero economy, individuals are grappling with unprecedented challenges in managing their working lives. Recognising this need, the European Union officially launched the European Year of Skills on Europe Day, 9 May, underscoring the importance of lifelong learning. However, despite these efforts, many people throughout the EU and beyond still lack access to vital career guidance and adult education and training opportunities. It is crucial to address this gap, as accessible adult learning and career guidance play a pivotal role in ensuring that the workforce is equipped to meet the demands of a net-zero economy, leaving no worker behind. Just to make things even more complicated, as mentioned by Simon Schmidt, from SkillLab, “Vulnerable groups require specific tailor-made support that can only be achieved by giving full consideration to people’s individual needs.”

To gain a comprehensive understanding of the current state of adult education and career guidance, it is clear that much remains to be done. Regrettably, there continues to be a persistently low participation rate in lifelong learning initiatives. Similarly, career guidance services are lacking, with many workers and learners having limited knowledge of available labour opportunities and training programmes. This knowledge gap disproportionately affects those who are most in need, exacerbating inequalities and hindering progress towards a just and green transition.

“The need for advanced career guidance services for individuals of all ages and educational backgrounds cannot be overstated,” says ETF green skills expert, Romain Boitard. “Without such support, the green transition goals are at risk of being missed. The effects of this transition are far-reaching, impacting workers, employers, governments, and policymakers on multiple levels”.

Shifting towards a functional green economy that is decoupled from resource use has profound implications for labour markets and training systems. The lingering effects of the pandemic, coupled with rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, necessitates a paradigm shift in the way work is done across various occupations. Traditional job roles are being redefined, and new occupations are emerging. Electric car mechanics and heat pump installers, for instance, employ similar skill sets as their traditional counterparts but with a focus on sustainability. The need for education and training to adapt to these changes is undeniable. This is confirmed by Delphine Rudelli, Director General of European Tech & Industry Employers: “As employers, we know that skills need to be seen as an investment, although we realise that for small businesses this can be a real challenge” she explained. Judith Kirton-Darling, Deputy General Secretary, industriAll Europe, encouraged everyone involved to take action and quickly: “25 million industrial workers are impacted by the green transition. For instance, there are currently 1.3 million workers in the EU in renewable energy linked jobs, but by 2030 we will need to train a further 2.2 million to reach the estimated need of 3.5 million by then. This means a lot of training! Workers need individual rights to ensure access”.

Young people are also significantly affected by the green transition, as they stay in education longer and face increasingly complex decisions regarding training and career paths. Lifelong learning and career guidance are now integral to a successful 21st-century working life, enabling individuals to reskill and upskill to remain competitive in a rapidly evolving job market. However, as George Christopoulos from the Greek Public Employment Service pointed out, “The need for lifelong learning is well-accepted, but once we actually look for the courses that we need on the ground, we often come to the conclusion that they are simply not available”.

Current data paints a concerning picture. The ETF survey reveals that around 10% of EU workers engage in lifelong learning initiatives, with even lower rates among our Eastern European and Western Balkan neighbours. Moreover, unemployed individuals face significant barriers to accessing upskilling and reskilling opportunities, with a staggering 62% of unemployed respondents in the EU-27 reporting no participation in any training activities over the past year (rising to 84% in the EU neighbourhood).

Recognising the potential of online learning as a credible and satisfactory option, it presents a valuable opportunity to boost participation in education and training while developing remote work skills. However, the digital divide poses a significant challenge, as those without access to lifelong learning initiatives risk labour market exclusion, particularly individuals with lower skill levels.

The challenges ahead are substantial, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, the European Training Foundation (ETF) has identified several priorities that are crucial for the successful implementation of career guidance and lifelong learning in any given economy:

  • Building a robust qualifications framework to form the backbone of lifelong learning systems, making them more practical and simplifying coordination.
  • Implementing a pragmatic validation system for non-formal and informal learning to recognise existing skills and knowledge.
  • Integrating career guidance with social services to provide holistic support that considers individual needs, facilitating (re)entry into the labour market and capitalising on the opportunities offered by the green economy.
  • Enhancing data collection efforts to capture the dynamic changes in occupations brought about by technological advancements, leading to evidence-based policies and tailored training programmes.

The role of career guidance and adult education is indispensable in achieving a just and green transition. It is imperative that policymakers, governments, employers, and international institutions collaborate to ensure accessible and comprehensive lifelong learning opportunities, helping individuals to navigate the evolving job market and contribute to a sustainable future. Tim Schreiber of the European Commission’s DG Employment explained “The Commission promotes peer learning on greening vocational education”. The European Training Foundation stands at the forefront of this effort, working to support countries to develop workforces equipped to meet the challenges and opportunities of a net-zero economy.

Watch the whole event here.

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