How important are education and skills for the green and digital transitions?
The green transition, and symbiotic digital transition, mean rethinking the way we design, develop, produce, market and distribute goods and services across all sectors of the economy. It means the replacement of fossil fuel technologies and the demise of industries, like coal mining or petrol...
The green transition, and symbiotic digital transition, mean rethinking the way we design, develop, produce, market and distribute goods and services across all sectors of the economy. It means the replacement of fossil fuel technologies and the demise of industries, like coal mining or petroleum extraction, dependent on them. It forces people to rethink how we live our lives and consider the environmental impact of everything we do.
This will mean the disappearance of some jobs, the creation of others – not necessarily in the same sectors or the same geographical locations – and the transformation of many more. Motor mechanics, for example, will have to learn to repair and service electric vehicles. Construction workers will have to learn to install solar panels and geothermal heating systems. Farmers will have to learn to apply precision agriculture techniques.
Environmental awareness will become a requirement of all jobs, and indeed an aspect of 21st century citizenship.
Skills for greening
2023 is the European Year of Skillswhich underscoresjust how critical the role of skills have in our future. The green transition will not happen if people do not have the awareness, knowledge and skills to drive it forwards. And that means big changes in education, training and lifelong learning. Environmental awareness will need to be mainstreamed in all curricula. Vocational and higher education will have to adapt to the emergence of environmentally friendly technologies in a wide range of professions. Courses will have to be developed for new professional profiles linked to greening, such as energy auditor or sustainability officer or environmental engineer.
Learning for all
The green transition accentuates the need for education and training systems to transition towards lifelong learning. New mindsets and new skills will be needed not only for people entering the labour market, but people of all ages and stages in life. And this regardless of their social and economic status, educational attainment, abilities or disabilities, or geographical location. The green transition is about more that specialised technical professions, it is about everyone having a stake in sustainability, and the green transition must therefore be inclusive of all members of society.
A global challenge
Launched in December 2019, the EuropeanGreen Deal aims for zero carbon emissions by 2050 through respecting the earth’s resources, the health and well-being of its citizens, and stimulating economic growth through embracing the challenges of the twin green and digital transitions. To be successful, sustainability efforts cannot stop at geographical borders. As a global leader the EU’s green ambitions have worldwide reach, which are supported by programmes and activities, including those on education and skills development, through its external relations and assistance.
In the EU’s 2021–2027 budget, the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument(NDICI) which has a budget of €79.5 billion allocated a 25% spending target on climate change which goes hand in hand with all targets, specifically with human development and migration which have targets of 20% and 10%, respectively. Indeed, the EU’s most recent strategy, the Global Gateway, highlights the interconnectivity of the most pressing issues of our time and aims to boost smart, clean and secure links in digital, energy and transport sectors and to strengthen health, education and research systems across the world dedicating a budget of EUR 300 billion of investments.
The ETF and the EU neighbourhood
The ETF’s work is devised and delivered in the context of the European Union’s policies and the EU's external relations priorities in support of the Agenda 2030 and the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is supporting partner countries in the EU’s neighbouring regions to prepare for the green transition through the reform of human capital development systems.
This edition of Learning Connects focuses on the green and digital transitions with articles giving an overview of the ETF's initiatives and in-depth focus on the ETF's GRETA project, the Digital Education Reform Framework, and the ETF's Green Skills Awards.
See also the ETF's recently published policy brief on green skills.
Boosting green and digital skills in the EU's neighbouring regions
Skills development for the green and digital transitions is a transversal issue within all of the ETF’s activities and an important component of...
Skills development for the green and digital transitions is a transversal issue within all of the ETF’s activities and an important component of ETF policy advice to governments and stakeholders, and policy analysis and progress monitoring as part of the Torino Process.
An overview of ETF activities here shows how we are supporting the interaction of education and training systems and their environments, aligned with sectoral greening and digital strategies. The aim is to build skills ecosystems integrated with economic, technological and social change. More in depth articles follow in this edition on the ETF's GRETA initiative, the ETF's Digital Education Reform Framework (DERF) and the ETF's Green Skills Awards.
Understanding skills and supporting responsive education and training systems
The ETF’s work includes the mapping and anticipation of changing skills in partner countries and understanding the preparedness of education and training systems, particularly vocational education systems, to ensure citizens and current and future employees have the necessary skills to meet growing demand. Specific scientific and technical green skills for certain occupations will be required but not only. Every individual, at all ages and stages in life, will need transversal skills and competences and general environmental awareness to be able to live and thrive in the green economy.
National and international networks
The ETF builds and supports networks at multiple levels to ensure the creation of new knowledge and the building of expertise. The ETF Network for Excellence (ENE) supports centres of vocational excellence in the greening of their vocational and education training provision through theGRETA initiative, which supports the green transition through peer learning.
As part of the ENE initiative, a new project has just been launched which focuses on the international dimensions of centres of excellence. One of the priorities of the project is to collectively steer local and regional skills ecosystems and ensure they contribute to today’s priorities – the green and digital transitions, in particular. Studies will be undertaken on how centres of vocational excellence support the EU’s green and digital objectives, as well as assessing their contribution to innovation andapplied research
Meanwhile, the ETF Skills Lab Network of Expertsbrings together experts and researchers from across countries and institutions to develop and disseminate labour market research on skills anticipation and matching including for the green and digital transitions. At the same time, theGLAD network supports partnerships and enhances the contribution of multiple stakeholders to the governance of vocational education and training, skills development and lifelong learning.
The ETF undertakes sectoral studies to better understand the impact of global trends and inform policy advice and country interventions, such as the recent study on the agri-food sector in the Western Balkans.
Moreover, the ETF’s smart specialisation methodological approach enables each region to identify local strengths and assets, and to develop its own competitive advantages together with the identification of current, emerging and future skills needs and the ability of the education and training system to respond to those needs.
Frameworks and tools for competence development
The ETF offers tools to support reform efforts including those developed by the European Commission: GreenComp, the European Sustainability Competence Framework; DigComp, the European Digital Competence Framework; DigCompEdu, the European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators; the EU’s SELFIE tool, designed to help schools embed digital technologies into teaching, learning and assessment. These are complemented by the ETF's models and tools including the ETF’sREADY model, the Reference model for Educators' Activities and Development in the 21st-century; and the ETF's Digital Education Reform Framework (DERF), amongst others.
ETF Green Skills Award
Following on from the highly successful awards in 2021 (2021 finalists) and 2022 (2022 finalists) for good practice in skills development to empower the green transition, this year the ETF will launch the third round focusing on ‘equal opportunities, digitalisation, and youth’. By profiling outstanding success stories we hope to inspire education and training to policy makers and practitioners in the EU neighbourhood and beyond.
Interface with other policy areas
The green transition is a cross-cutting policy issue that needs to properly interface with other policy areas such as youth, migration and gender equality. The ETF works to ensure inclusive skills development and employment policies for greening by building partnerships across the policy divide and ensuring a multiple stakeholder approach to manage change.
Greening training, and training greening
If the world appears, belatedly, to have woken up to the urgent need for a green transition, there’s still a wilful ignorance about one of the m...
If the world appears, belatedly, to have woken up to the urgent need for a green transition, there’s still a wilful ignorance about one of the most vital ingredients for how to get there: the actual skill set. A green deal without green training, know-how and expertise will remain forever a fantasy, which is why the ETF has pioneered a programme to incubate, nurture and share green skills for the green transition.
GRETA – the acronym is a tribute to the Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg – stands for ‘Greening Responses To Excellence through Thematic Actions’. Some 18 Centres of Vocational Excellence, from eight different countries, are involved in the project and the fact that eight of the participants are from Ukraine makes the project not only about ecological, but also, in some ways, about existential resilience.
The lead on the GRETA project is Susanne Nielsen, an ETF green skills expert, and Country Liaison Officer for Ukraine.
'The green transition is a structural change moving from a carbon-based economy to a more sustainable economy ,' says Nielsen. 'It involves how our food is produced, the buildings we live in, how we commute, what we produce and the materials used, the jobs we perform. The aim of this change is the reduction of CO2 emissions.'
Digitalisation can play a key role in the green transition. According to the World Economic Forum, digital technologies could reduce emissions by 20% by 2025 in the high emission sectors of energy, materials and mobility and is important to ensure the skills required for transforming the business processes in these sectors as well as in other industries. But the trouble, according to Nielsen, is that:
'Technological change is running so fast that institutional frameworks and skills development can’t match it. Furthermore, we often see ambitious sustainable growth plans and energy transition strategies, with limited consideration on where the skills are going to come from.'
VET partnerships implemented in the frame of the ETF's global Network for Excellence project support the greening of vocational education and training through a whole-institution approach. The partnership allows centres of vocational excellence to learn from each other about greening practices, sustainable solutions and the technological knowledge necessary for future training programmes. Tamar Zakarashvili, Director of Construct 2 college in Georgia, talks about their new training project for the installation of plastic and aluminium windows and doors for better insulation. There are new generation building materials too:
'We’re learning about energy effective materials like Ytong blocks. We started using this material because it is energy effective and very light. It makes labour easier than it used to be before when bricks were very heavy…'
But whilst technical skills are important, GRETA is also a forum for transversal skills. According to Nielsen, the former are more mechanistic, about the adaptation or implementation of 'standards, processes, services, products and technologies to protect ecosystems and biodiversity, and to reduce energy, materials and water consumption'. But there’s a more holistic aspect to the sustainable transition that is about 'the mindset, the attitudes and the values'.
That, perhaps, is why the top-down educational model is sometimes inverted in sustainable learning: digital natives who have never known anything other than the climate emergency can be more in-tune with the necessary mindset than some of their teachers.
'They’re the engines of the future,' says Nielsen. 'But we're extremely privileged to be working with schools and to see so many examples of greening initiatives led by engaging teachers and students.'
The flip-side of that is one of the fundamental issues of the green transition in an educational context: given the unknown terrain – with constant innovation, invention and trial-by-error solutions, 'international surveys show that a large portion of teachers lack the new green knowledge,' says Nielsen, 'so it’s imperative that we have continuing, green, professional development for teachers.'
Hence GRETA’s emphasis on peer learning and the humble acceptance of counsel from all quarters. There have been, so far, five thematic sessions of the GRETA pioneers, with a sixth and final gathering planned for April. In the most recent meeting, Karolina Sikala, from Denmark’s Green Academy, spoke eloquently of the need 'to listen to each other, to know what our needs are and not only hear one side. We are different, with different needs, but it’s about collaborating to make the change.' It is often assumed that the climate crisis will increase conflict but it can also, as GRETA demonstrates, accelerate collaboration and what Sikala calls 'the common foundation'.
But as well as bottom-up peer-learning, many involved in the greening of vocational training emphasise the importance of top-down directives. As Stefan Thomas, ETF Senior Human Capital Development Expert and part of the ETF team working on human capital developments in Africa, says:
'We definitely see that there needs to be a strong will from the training centre itself or from central government. We’ve seen that countries like Morocco or Singapore have enacted effective strategies to transform their countries.'
Morocco, for example, has initiated an ambitious National Energy Strategy which aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2030. It intends to meet this target by reducing energy consumption by 15% and by generating 52% of the remaining energy needs from renewables (20% wind, 20% solar, and 12% hydro). Other countries, like Denmark, have signed off on similarly daring plans, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the farming industry by 65% by 2030. Countries with such explicit destinations are obviously creating new training road-maps, with national energy policies driving education in new directions.
Many vocational education and training providers involved in GRETA talk about 'alignment', about the need for regional development authorities, business associations, vocational colleges and various stakeholders to work together, to align skills needs in a region with skills training and offerings.
But the key alignment, according to Thomas, is having 'well-trained teachers who are close to industry. One conclusion that we can draw is that ecological learning requires highly motivated teachers with hands-on experience who are well-connected to industry.'
It’s especially important in poorer countries where colleges can’t afford the sophisticated equipment and materials that are available in business settings. In Singapore’s three-year diploma training programmes there are internships 'with approximately 20% of learning in the workplace'.
'But they are able to arrange this thanks to all the latest technologies available also allowing for simulation of warehouse or workshop settings within their colleges. For other schools, however, with less advanced conditions, such as in sub-Saharan Africa, the best pathway to enhance learning is through the training centres working closely with businesses from that same sector. Like this students are exposed to real world working environments,' says Thomas.
Although the green transition is clearly challenging, many see it as an opportunity to counter job polarisation and 'level-up' the workplace. In Nielsen’s words, it’s a chance to 'upskill and reskill across the labour market'. Waste management protocols demand data analysis, energy expertise, waste-sorting optimisation, technical engineers and repair specialists. One of the earliest lessons of the green transition is that resourcefulness requires far more skill than wastefulness.
Radical digital inclusion
It is not often that you hear ‘radical’ being used in the same sentence as digital inclusion and education.
But in the wake of the COVID-19 p...
It is not often that you hear ‘radical’ being used in the same sentence as digital inclusion and education.
But in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic there have been extensive discussions about the role of digital technology in education, how it was applied during the pandemic, and what needs to be done going forward to ensure more inclusivity. And for this to happen, there needs to be a radical adoption of digital inclusion across the board.
“The concept the European Training Foundation (ETF) is trying to push forward as much as we can, and formally, is one of radical digital inclusion. Otherwise, if we want to only marginally increase digital inclusion it will take a long time and the private sector may take over,” said Fabio Nascimbeni, Human Capital Development Expert at the ETF. It is like counting your carbon footprint - when it becomes a habit, it changes mindsets,” he added.
As an EU agency, the ETF helps transitioning and developing countries harness the potential of their human capital through the reform of education, training and labour market systems. This includes coordinating the digital component in projects, which became a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic and has retained importance post-pandemic in relation to better learning experience and outcomes for all.
“We plan to use the framework when talking with policy makers about digital inclusion initiatives, to advise them on where to focus. Infrastructure is one aspect, but there are many more dimensions connected to inclusion,” said Nascimbeni.
The ETF, along with experts, widely discussed what digital inclusion means and how it can be radically implemented at the Digital Inclusion Summit in 2021, which led to the production of a book on the topic. This was followed by a session at the European Development Days in Brussels in 2022.
To Nascimbeni, digital inclusion needs to be human-centric, which means thinking about how to include everyone. To do so, the ETF and the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organisation developed the website DigitallyExcluded.org.
The website has a set of challenges to make people feel excluded, and therefore empathise with the digitally excluded. When university students used the platform at its launch in Turin, there was the expectation that it would be easy as they were familiar with technology. “The students failed the four challenges, and were very disappointed. The website is a way to make people think about exclusion, and that it can mean many different things,” said Nascimbeni.
The platform highlights the shift away from focusing on infrastructure and equipment to improve digital inclusion by having more sophisticated discussions about accessibility. “It is not just about a link and the opportunity to connect, but about user interface (UI) design and the user experience (UX),” said Alessandro Brolpito, expert on digital skills and learning at the ETF.
At the core of this is the concept of the personalised learning experience. “This is not just for impaired students. We have to think how inclusion applies to each of us,” he said.
This does not necessarily require hi-tech solutions. “Low tech solutions for personalisation are possible as long as it gives the opportunity to be more inclusive and accessible to everyone, and to find and choose material solutions that best suit a person’s brain and capacity. We do not need virtual reality or a Metaverse type of environment,” added Brolpito.
ETF country support
An example of adopting a technologically feasible approach is in Kosovo, which is working on education reform, that puts inclusion of minorities and different ethnic groups as one of the three key priorities, relying on digital education to reduce barriers and favour inclusion . “In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, we have been defining low-tech, bottom-up solutions to make this happen,” said Brolpito.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ETF has been supporting a state-wide initiative for basic digital skills. “We have helped prepare the terms of reference that take into account diversity and the need for inclusion,” said Brolpito.
In Armenia, a national school mentor project has been launched where schools with more advanced digital capacity provide support in STEM education to schools in rural areas. “We want to help the digital capacity of mentor schools, such as through the SELFIE tool, to improve inclusion and quality of online learning in rural areas,” said Brolpito.
Looking forward, a digital inclusion mindset needs to be adopted to implement the right policies to ensure human capital development, which is the ETF’s mission. “When designing and thinking of policies, it is more expensive and takes more time to include everyone, but the more people that are included, the more a policy will have an impact,” said Nascimbeni.
4 facts on the ETF's Green Skills Awards
Introduced in 2021, this initiative promotes sustainable education, training, and skills development and has become a respected global platform ...
Introduced in 2021, this initiative promotes sustainable education, training, and skills development and has become a respected global platform for showcasing good practice in creating circular and carbon-neutral economies and societies. With each edition, the award continues to grow, inspiring positive change and innovation.
The previous two editions of the award received 198 applications and 26,700 votes from around the world. The winning initiatives, presented by participants from countries such as Croatia (with Armenia and Türkiye), Kenya, India, Nigeria, Palestine and Türkiye, included upskilling refugees in solar energy and promoting environmental awareness in schools. The new edition of the award, with a focus on equal opportunities, digitalisation, and youth, aims to promote a just and equitable transition towards a more sustainable and prosperous future. It is expected to attract even more entries and will continue to recognise the crucial role of education, training, and skills development in creating a green and thriving world.
Stay tuned for the upcoming launch of the new edition of the ETF's Green Skills Award!
ETF podcast #25 – Investing in education: putting people and skills at the heart of financial decision-making
The European Bank for Reconstru...
ETF podcast #25 – Investing in education: putting people and skills at the heart of financial decision-making
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How can skills development help us build more inclusive businesses that support our societies in becoming more fair and just?
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In this 25th episode of our Skills Factory podcast series, we discuss these important issues with Biljana Radonjic Ker-Lindsay, EBRD Associate Director, and Cristina Mereuta, ETF Expert.
Join the fifth edition of Cities Forum in Turin, Italy, and discover what’s coming next in sustainable urban development. Bringing together key urban stakeholders at European, national, regional and local levels who are committed to green and just cities, the event will focus on the role of cities in implementing the European Green Deal and the importance of strategic approaches to climate adaptation and environmental protection.