"There are employment gains of the green transition in almost every sector"

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  • 21/07/2022

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Stelina Chatzichristou. Expert in the department for VET and skills at Cedefop
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Stelina Chatzichristou is an expert in the department for VET and skills at Cedefop, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training. She is leading Cedefop's research on jobs, skills and VET for the green transition and sectoral skills developments. Stelina coordinates the skills trends and intelligence team and contributes to the Centre's research on skills anticipation and skills governance. Before joining Cedefop, Stelina worked for almost a decade in the private sector as a researcher and policy analyst. In that capacity, she has worked on and managed projects on national and EU comparative analysis on VET, skills and entrepreneurship.

Cynthia M. Harrison manages the lifelong guidance project at Cedefop as part of a team of experts in VET supporting policy, comprising career guidance, validation of informal and non-formal learning, and financing VET and adult learning at the Department for VET and Skills at the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop). She coordinates CareersNet, Cedefop's network of independent experts in lifelong guidance and career development. Earlier on, Cynthia was engaged in project work in education policy, social inclusion, civic competence, career aspirations and school leadership. She was employed as a grant-holder at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and doctoral research at Stockholm University. She was also an adult educator in Japan for several years. She holds degrees in Sociology and International and Comparative Education. 

What changes will the green transition produce in the labour market? Will there be more job opportunities? If so, in which sectors?

The green transition is not a just a change, but a fundamental transformation that touches every aspect of our economies and societies. Moreover, the greening of economies and societies is not something that is ever done or finished, but a continued process towards a new equilibrium point. Therefore, the green transition is not only about so-called "green" occupations we tend to think about when we discuss sustainability (e.g., solar panel installers, wind turbine engineers, electric vehicle technicians). Changes in skill sets will be necessary across all sectors and occupations, from high-skilled to elementary occupations; however, the intensity or the pace of change will not be the same for all.
 
Cedefop's skills forecast, which we produce to understand future labour market trends, shows that there are employment gains of the green transition, as expressed by the implementation of the European Green Deal (EGD), in almost every sector. Our "green" skills forecast scenario[1] shows that more employment is foreseen by 2030 in the EU with the implementation of the EGD than without it.  This could amount to around 2.5 million additional jobs in the EU.
 
According to Cedefop's "green" scenario sectors with the expected largest employment gains are: waste management (through increased recycling activities) and water supply; electricity supply (through increased demand for renewable energy); manufacturing of appliances/electrical equipment (e.g. for the renewable electricity generation sector, or more-energy efficient appliances); and construction (renovation, retrofitting buildings).
 
Indirect employment benefits are also expected mostly concerning service-based sectors that will benefit through supply chains. Sectors such as information and communication, real estate, professional, scientific and technical activities, and administrative and support service activities sectors, will likely gain employment as a result.
 
Regarding occupations, it should be noted that:
 
  • Key occupations (e.g., EV technicians in car manufacturing) that account for a significant share of employment will need to adjust to new skill needs. This will need to be reflected in VET opportunities for these workers.
  • Niche occupations that may be small in terms of employment shares, but indispensable for achieving the green transition. These could regard, for instance, jobs in R&D, researchers in renewable energies/hydrogen and other scientists. In Cedefop, we call them sometimes "thyroid occupations". Shortages in those occupations (in numbers but also in terms of skills) would hinder technological developments and other important steps for achieving the EGD targets.
 
In most of occupations that play a key role in the green transition, the design, development and use of technology, as well as higher digital skills are crucial. This highlights the link between the digital transformation and the green transition. Skills "silo-thinking" needs to be replaced by a more comprehensive view on the skills for which workers will need to be trained, taking into consideration all megatrends.
   
What challenges education systems and career guidance face in the green transition?
 
Europe is accelerating toward a remarkable set of shifts building over many years, some of which are driven by public policy, by technological development and by environmental change and that are all broadly related to sustainability. The green transition is a welcome change to many who are concerned about the future of our societies and our limited natural resources.  Crises such as pandemics, the brutal conflict in Ukraine, the need to find new resources, remind us how unpredictable life can be.  We see how being better prepared for crises, to be resilient, aware, and able to sustain our societies in partnership, is critical. We have been discussing such challenges with our CareersNet experts in career development policy, who note their increasing visibility across policy fields where expert informed career guidance policy must play a role, and must constantly address the connection between individuals, education and training, and the world of work.
 
More coherent guidance and support systems that reach and benefit, more users, equitably, are needed. We will not manage these major transitions well in the long term without a better prepared workforce, smarter and earlier career education or without systems and services that are coordinated, inclusive, effective, professionalised and digitally fit. Enabling just transitions are not new to career guidance, nor is building self-efficacy in the face of career change, but we would argue that system level cross-sectoral networking is essential, along with creative use of scarce resources, tools such as e-portfolios, close collaboration with users, and with new partners in greening sectors. These are demanding times, but also hopeful if we pool our resources to aim for a sustainable future.
 
Regarding vocational education and training (VET), it has two parallel tracks to follow[2]: one is supporting the green transition in the short-term. The other track supports longer-term goals. The short-term approach is about quick and efficient responses that would minimise the negative effects for workers in "brown" sectors or regions and boost the skills of those who may already experience change in their skill sets. At the same time, we also need to avoid skill mismatches for workers in booming sectors. So, VET, including apprenticeship, needs to run a sprint. The sprint approach can accompany the change: upskilling and reskilling will be needed in the short-term to minimise the expected skill mismatches due to changes in skill sets triggered by the green transition.
 
So, VET can alleviate bottlenecks in recruiting and attaining talent; but it can play a broader role. Particularly continuous VET (CVET) can also minimise some of the social costs incurred in times of profound change: vulnerable groups, such as the unemployed and inactive persons, low-skilled individuals, migrants, NEETs and early school leavers can use VET to re-enter the labour market. And in particular for some skillsets, it is the hands-on learning approach that makes the difference, for example because it helps integrate digital skills with the ones for the green transition.
 
The implementation of the European Green Deal, that guides the EU's green transition, is also a longer-term journey. The green transition is not a static goal, but a new equilibrium point where a greener economy and society will continue to be the norm. To support this purpose, VET needs to run a marathon. This can mean the early identification of skill mismatches that could hamper the reaching and sustaining of a green equilibrium point, for example by supporting the timely training and professional development of highly specialised professionals, decisive to provide evidence to design the transition ("thyroid occupations), and tackle gender imbalances in the workforce composition.
 
There will be continuous need to be attentive to and address skill mismatches, but the marathon approach can take VET's role a step further: building on skills intelligence, VET can drive change and the innovation necessary to rethink our world in terms of circularity and sustainability; and it can explore deeper synergies between skills for the twin transition.
 
How can people face the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that the green transition will produce?
 
Economic and social megatrends, such as the green transition and digitalisation, imply a steep learning curve for some workers and groups of learners. Acquiring some skills and better understanding of why and how we need to make our way of living more sustainable is necessary and beneficial. Younger learners can consider employment opportunities in "green" occupations, if they align with their overall personal growth and career aspirations. Supporting a more circular way of designing, producing, and consuming can also be a full-filling job option for some: for example, taking a job opportunity that can enhance one's city/municipality becoming "smarter" and "greener"[3].
 
Workers in occupations, sectors, Member States or regions that are expected to face negative effects due to the transition will need to be supported with tailored training opportunities and career counselling to enable them to navigate the changes.
 
It will also depend partly on one's age and labour market status, sector of work and occupation, in terms of proximity to where the changes will be most keenly felt, and in which situations or domains. How a young student will process the challenges and changes in the world of work she is just beginning to experience through career explorations and career education courses, will differ greatly compared to a younger adult student or worker, or older adult still in the labour market or in education and training. Staying close to the education and training systems through lifelong learning, as greener policy initiatives start to penetrate these settings, with activated stakeholders and partners, is a plausible option. Visiting a trusted career guidance service, or a self-help platform, is a way to firstly understand the challenges, seek advice or counselling for more complex questions. For adults seeking a career change or facing a sudden transition, quality career services can draw on their expertise to help manage these transitions to a greener economy.
 
What are green skills? Which are they and why does Cedefop consider it important to acquire them? Their importance will last or could expire in a short time?
 
There is no comprehensive list of ‘green skills' as such. In Cedefop, we refer to them as skills for the green transition and refer to be first of all those professional skills which are directly linked to greening (for example, putting a solar panel on the roof of buildings). But also, relevant "soft" skills which are important in all occupations and sectors, for example awareness of ways to reduce or avoid waste.
 
This is why education, training and skills policy needs to address a double challenge: equipping some people with specific skills so they can be part of the green revolution and preparing a much wider group of people with the sustainability skills and attitudes necessary in our societies.
 
Technological developments and subsequent changes in production and business models are expected to evolve. Since the green transition is not a static goal, one can expect that skill sets, especially for particular occupations, will continue to change. Vocational education and training systems need to remain vigilant of these changes, so to update curricula and identify the most appropriate training pathways in a timely manner. As with all types of skills, a holistic approach to skills governance is crucial in achieving this in a smooth way, built on stakeholder partnerships and fuelled by high-quality skills intelligence.
 
How can career guidance professionals help people to acquire these green skills?
 
As we said above, supporting just transitions is not new to career guidance, so guidance practitioners will in a sense do more of the same, systemically, and perhaps with more diverse clientele. We advocate for more in-service training, enhanced qualification pathways. We published a joint collection of papers on the topic of professionalism in career guidance drafted after the pandemic onset (Cedefop, et. al, Digital transitions in lifelong guidance: rethinking career practitioner professionalism, 2021). Quality pre- and in-service training of career staff can help learners in acquiring skills needed for the twin transitions and enable more guidance users in opening new doors and to reskill for a more sustainable society. If countries invest more in their systems and services (see Cedefop, et al., Investing in Career Guidance, 2021), career practitioners, service managers, trainers and other professionals will be able to access CPD so they stay up to date with research, intervention methods and career theories, as well as in interpreting labour market information and skills intelligence. Guidance researchers provide evidence from studies and follow current labour market developments, including on sustainability.
 
Effectiveness studies should be used for evidence-oriented practice, and feed into service improvement (see Cedefop, et al., Towards European standards for monitoring and evaluation of lifelong guidance systems and services (Vol. I), 2022). The body of work produced should reach client-facing practitioners, experts designing career platforms or evaluating services. Service delivery operates in a high-stakes context for a sustainable future.  Potential users are divided between those who are more informed and who may keep pace with technological developments, as well as those facing complex barriers, or who are discouraged, or in jobs that may be phased out or transformed, or who may not feel included in the green transition or have doubts that they can successfully reskill. Practitioners will need to screen, to adjust based on client needs and make referrals, and will hopefully be adept at finding the right mix of methods and resources.
 
What will be 5 green professions with the most future, in terms of more job opportunities and income?

It is not possible to give comparative data for specific occupations based on Cedefop data. However, there are three occupational groups for which more demand is expected. These occupations are likely to drive the green transition. These are: core green occupations, linked to sectors and activities at the forefront of the green transition (such as renewable energy, waste management, design for prolonged product-life, activities and business models supporting a more circular economy etc.); the so-called "thyroid occupations", which may be small in employment shares but key to the achievement of the transition (such as researchers and engineers, but also associate professionals working on renewable energies, electrical vehicles, sustainable construction materials etc.) and digital occupations supporting the green transition.
 
What tools and resources does Cedefop have so that education and career guidance professionals can better understand how the labour market will evolve the green transition and thus better guide people in this regard?
 
Cedefop offers its stakeholders high-quality skills intelligence on Member States, occupations, and sectors meaningfully blending qualitative data and quantitative information. Cedefop's Skills forecast supports informed decisions by providing quantitative projections of future employment trends by Member State, sector and occupational group. Detailed information on the jobs and skills employers demand can be observed through Skills Ovate that is based on online job advertisements analysis. To better understand the implications of the green transition on skills, jobs and VET Cedefop's Green Observatory gathers all Cedefop-relevant work, currently ranging from a "green" skills forecast scenario results to analysis on the role of apprenticeships. In order to understand the specific changes at sectoral level, Cedefop is running skills foresight exercises on four sectors (smart and green cities, waste management, agri-food and circular economy). 
 
Overall, as highlighted in Cedefop's work on skills governance and skills anticipation, there can be no well-functioning and sustainable approach to a skills system without platforms/partnerships across multiple policy areas and between all stakeholders, including social partners. A long-term approach to VET's role for the green transition can facilitate the development and/or improvement of such formations powered by high-quality skills intelligence. Cedefop has developed guides[4] for stakeholders regarding the various key skills anticipation tools and methods, such as skills forecast, skills foresight, graduate studies, use of AI and Big data.  
 
 
[1] Cedefop (2021). The green employment and skills transformation: insights from a European Green Deal skills forecast scenario. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. 
[2] Cedefop (2022). Briefing note series. An ally in the green transition
[3] Cedefop has run a skills foresight exercise on the impact of the European Green Deal on jobs and skills in smart and green cities. Results will be soon published on Cedefop's Green Observatory.
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