There is no green transition without skills
In 2022–23, the ETF thoroughly assessed skill deployment policies for the green transition in neighbouring countries of the European Union. The analysis shows these countries have committed to ambitious green transition objectives, as evidenced by their national and sectoral strategies. They have also ratified international agreements such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, most of them have developed national roadmaps and sectoral strategies aimed at reducing fossil fuel use and progressing towards low-carbon, circular economies powered predominantly by renewable energy sources.
However, despite the ambitious targets, the skills dimension is frequently underemphasised within national and sectoral strategies, hampering their effectiveness in driving transformative change. These strategies often neglect to address the requirement for a qualified workforce or to outline measures ensuring the provision of specific skills essential to an accelerated green transition. Furthermore, skills for the green transition are not comprehensively described, failing to cover the full combination of sustainability mindsets, transversal skills, and technical competences.
Across countries, many local initiatives support the deployment of skills for the green transition, as well as courses that aim at teaching transversal skills and sustainability mindsets across education levels. At the same time, both higher education and vocational paths are adapted to respond to the new skills needs. However, these attempts are far from systemic and fail to meet the overall change needed. Action is needed to better understand new skills needs in different economic sectors and to urgently adapt provision.
National commitments toward a greener future
The countries neighbouring the EU have enacted green transition strategies, which contribute to global efforts in tackling climate change and enhancing sustainable development. As part of the Paris Agreement, the countries have developed Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for emission reduction. Moreover, all the countries have developed national sustainability or decarbonisation strategies, as well as strategic plans to increase renewable energy and/or energy efficiency. Energy production being one of the root causes of climate change, renewable energy expansion plans are usually the most articulated policies, and most countries are launching large investment partnerships in this regard.
While the adoption of national sustainability strategies and/or clean energy strategies are inevitable starting points, most of these documents do not focus on the skills that are needed for achieving those ambitious targets. Only a small number of countries specify the necessity for qualified personnel and even fewer offer concrete measures for achieving this goal, often only briefly mentioning the need for education and training reforms.
In contrast, the majority of the countries recognise the importance of incorporating skills for the green transition through their education and training strategies. Although these do not always detail the skills needed and often focus on the importance of sustainable development and nature in general.
Integration of skills into sectoral policies
This means integrating environmental sustainability into various government departments and policies, rather than treating it as a separate issue. Policy coordination in the green transition requires synchronisation across government levels and sectors. This involves aligning policies, regulations, and incentives for a coherent and sequenced approach. Structured stakeholder engagement is crucial, involving diverse groups like sub-national governments, businesses, civil society, trade unions, employers, and academia to consider various perspectives and promote buy-in, support, and innovation.
Enhancing collaboration between businesses and education providers to anticipate green technology skills needs is essential. This can be achieved through measures like work-based learning, regulatory stimulus, tax breaks, and financial incentives for lifelong learning and job-relevant training. Employers and their organisations should establish sector skills committees to discuss industry changes and define the skills and qualifications required for the green transition in specific sectors. And governments should establish climate change councils to steward and oversee the sequencing and responsibilities of all institutions.
What skills for the green economy
A skilled workforce is essential to transition to a green economy and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. This transformation involves reshaping how all economic sectors operate, including the production and distribution of goods and services, and decision-making processes. Consequently, this demands the labour force acquires new competences that include knowledge, values, attitudes, and behaviours that promote resource efficiency and sustainability.
Initial Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) aims to empower learners to reflect on their actions, considering their current and future impacts on the environment, society and the economy, both locally and globally.
Individuals should also be empowered to act in sustainable ways in complex situations, necessitating them to explore new directions and engage in socio-political processes to move their societies towards sustainable development. For this reason, education for sustainability needs to be understood as an integral element of quality education, inherent in the concept of lifelong learning, and all educational institutions, from preschool to higher education but also in non-formal and informal education, should promote the development of sustainability competences. This requires a holistic and transformative education that reviews learning content and outcomes, pedagogy, and the learning environment.
However, ensuring the provision of green competences through lifelong learning, including job-relevant training, goes beyond education for sustainability (e.g. green technology, green innovation, green processes) and is of utmost importance. Yet, educational strategic documents often overlook this crucial aspect. To progress on this front too, it is imperative to incentivise private companies and social partners to actively support the green skills deployment but also engage with providers on learning contents. Measures such as tax breaks, regulatory incentives, and certification initiatives become essential in this context.
Leaving no one behind: Ensuring a fair transition
The transition toward a green economy offers a substantial opportunity to generate a net employment gain, primarily within medium-skill occupations but also the so-called low skill occupations. However, realising this potential necessitates proactive government intervention. While the shift toward a greener economy and the surge in demand for green skills hold promise, concerns arise regarding the fairness of these transitions for various societal groups. If not coordinated adequately, this shift can perpetuate inequality and disadvantage specific communities, potentially failing to improve conditions for job-seekers, low-skilled workers, young people, and women. The transition will happen by default, but the fair transition will happen by design, through labour readjustments that are people and worker-centred.
Understanding new skills demand to empower workers
Across countries, policymakers are aware of the challenges in aligning skills systems with the green transition, but the scarcity of skills and employment data hinders precise planning. The main objective is to bridge the gap between the skills employers require and the skills the workforce possesses, both in terms of quantity and quality. This requires accurate information about job-specific knowledge and skills, especially as these requirements evolve very quickly.
With regular skills intelligence, countries can better plan education and training policies as well as inform learners and workers about current and emerging employment opportunities. Detailed data on the changing labour needs at regional and sectoral levels can be utilised to align local education provision. To achieve this, policymakers should harness tools like big data, online job listings, artificial intelligence, and other data analytical technologies. Recent advances in big data analysis, particularly relevant to the green and digital transitions, offer cost-effective and real-time insights.