COP28 outcome makes green skills business-critical

Workers carry a damaged photovoltaic panel inside a solar power plant in Gujarat,

Workers carry a damaged photovoltaic panel inside a solar power plant in Gujarat, India, July 2, 2015. India's $100 billion push into solar energy over the next decade will be driven by foreign players as uncompetitive local manufacturers fall by the wayside, no longer protected by government restrictions on the sector. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Workers worldwide will need the expertise and resources to drive the fossil fuel-free agenda forward

Henry White is co-founder and CEO of xUnlocked, a professional learning and development organisation and BPP partner.

In December, COP28’s global outcome was the decision to transition away from fossil fuels and move towards renewable energy use and energy-efficient operational means. As a result, climate-related policy and reporting regulations are expected to become stricter, and businesses will need to have the correct knowledge and systems in place to stay ahead. In only a matter of weeks, green skills within organisations have shifted from being nice-to-haves, to business-critical necessities.

Combine this with 2023 officially becoming the hottest year on record, and the increasing severity of the climate crisis means we are in urgent need of a workforce that is better equipped with green skills. Workers will need the expertise and resources to drive the fossil fuel-free agenda forward - not only in the UK, but globally too.

There have been numerous reports that have outlined how the green skills gap is slowing the progress of sustainability goals. PwC’s Green Jobs Barometer series states: “The UK financial services sector faces a substantial green skills gap and is not moving fast enough to close it.”

Meanwhile in a Bain & Company survey, 63% of respondents said different skills and behaviours will be needed for their employer to meet their ESG ambitions.

Elsewhere, LinkedIn’s Global Green Skills Report 2023 found that demand for green skills will soon outstrip supply, with green job postings increasing by more than 15% in 2023 compared to the previous year.

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With the new global agenda of a fossil-fuel phase out, this need for green skills will only accelerate. The challenge for businesses, however, is that developing green skills hasn’t been a major priority for organisations until now. And there's been an overall lack of supply of potential employees with the skills essential for helping businesses transition – making it more difficult to hire the correct talent.

Employers must therefore begin cultivating green skills within their existing workforce, by equipping staff with the tools and knowledge to meet present and future sustainability needs tailored to the business. This can be achieved by building instead of buying talent — a strategy that has previously been applied by business leaders in a race for technical and digital skills that are in short supply in the labour market.

Identifying green skills requirements

As the term suggests, ‘green skills’ are broadly thought of as the technical skills and knowledge directly relating to the transition to a low-carbon economy – which is fundamental to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  

However, from a training perspective, there is still a lack of industry-wide consensus around delivering green upskilling due to the wide variety of skills encapsulated under the phrase. The green skills necessary to work in energy production and utilities, or transportation, or finance, can differ significantly and may require niche training.

In the current climate change discourse, the term “green skills” will likely continue to evolve and encompass a broad range of factors and requirements. In response, training should relate to how a business provides its products or services (e.g., an energy company that can use renewable sources instead of fossil fuels) and/or how a business operates and strategises for the future (e.g. corporate sustainability or carbon accounting).

The key to building an effective green skills strategy is to take the time to identify which combination of skills is most suitable for an organisation’s progression towards its targets, whether that be achieving its net zero goals, integrating climate change measures into policies, or contributing to the just transition.

Sustainability grounding needed for all workers

Businesses should prioritise providing green jobs and the necessary training to people from all backgrounds to expand the talent pool and recruit staff with a wider range of experiences to catalyse a pro-environmental economy. Professional learning and development, designed to give a solid grounding in sustainability and develop the necessary industry-specific skills, is key to delivering this transformation for our current workforce, especially in industries such as legal, finance, digital and technology, and administration.

Regardless of whether a job is considered directly “green”, organisations can make better decisions when everyone is better equipped with an understanding of sustainability. This will be when businesses can truly transform for the benefit of the environment.

To create a wider pipeline of early green talent, governments should also review and enhance other green training pathways (e.g. apprenticeships, traineeships, internships, and skills boot-camps) to provide young people with an early understanding of green career pathways and give them the confidence and skills needed to move into an entry-level role.

For employers, especially at smaller firms, partnering with professional training providers can also be a valuable method to gain insights into the skills needed and help design a tailored, effective programme to deliver this upskilling.

In addition, there is room for strong collaboration between local authorities, sector representatives, education providers, employers, and the government to help create clear “green skill” pathways for current professionals and young people alike.

From a business perspective, demonstrating a commitment to equipping workers with the tools needed to navigate the ever-evolving sustainability landscape will also be valuable in talent attraction and retention. It's time to begin shaping a labour-force primed for a greener tomorrow.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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