New ILO study provides global view of skills for a greener future

Within the framework of the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25), taking place in Madrid from 2- 13 December 2019, the ILO will launch its new report “Skills for a greener future: A global view” that examines how skills development and lifelong learning policies can embrace a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all.

Actualité | 11 décembre 2019
Transitioning to environmentally sustainable societies has the potential to create millions of jobs. However, this will require bold action to invest in people’s capabilities to realize their full potential and contribute to the productivity of enterprises. Developing the right skills for the shift to greener ways of production and service delivery and ensuring that these skills are fully utilized by workers and employers becomes increasingly important.

A new ILO report entitled “Skills for a Greener Future: A global view” is the first global study to analyse how skills development can underpin just transition and the implications for skills, gender and occupations of the transition to low-carbon and resource-efficient economies. The ground-breaking study provides new insights into the likely impact of the green transition on occupational skills by 2030.

The new report builds on 32 countries surveyed that account for 63 per cent of world employment, 65 per cent of global GDP and 63 per cent of CO2 emissions. The study is based on two global scenarios: energy sustainability—a phasing out of fossil fuel energy generation and move to renewable sources —and a “circular economy” that mostly effects manufacturing, production and service sectors and embraces the recycling, repair, reuse, remanufacture and longer durability of goods.

Among the major findings highlighted in the report:

The green transition could create millions of jobs but would require major investments in reskilling:
Cumulatively under the two global policy scenarios, over 100 million jobs can potentially be created but also close to 80 million may be destroyed. This implies both a net positive impact on jobs and a sizeable workforce transition. Overall, job creation will be concentrated among medium-skill jobs, with the potential to offset other labour market disruptions caused by globalization, offshoring and technological change that typically destroy these types of jobs.

For the large majority of occupations, jobs lost in one industry will be matched by equivalent jobs created in another industry, assuming large-scale reallocations. The sets of skills that workers will be able to re-use in growing industries include not only soft skills such as communication, problem solving, analytical thinking and resilience to change but also other semi-technical and technical transferable skills, such as sales and marketing, scheduling, budgeting, engineering, and repair or plumbing. Many new jobs will be created in building and related trades, and construction, manufacturing, transport and sales workers and will require major adjustments of vocational training programmes to guarantee the flow of future workers. Reskilling and upskilling will be essential, especially for those affected by jobs losses.

Gender disparities will persist with women getting only a fraction of the jobs created unless measures are taken to train women in relevant skills:
Men in mid-skill occupations will be the most affected by job losses and will have the greatest need of reskilling and upskilling to enable them to move to new employment opportunities. (Mid-skills occupations include, for example, occupations such as technicians, carpenters, plumbers and electricians.) But, if the current occupational gender stereotypes persist, women will be getting only a fraction of the jobs created. Measures are needed to be taken to train women in relevant skills so that they can benefit from potentially created jobs, particularly in high-skilled and middle-skilled occupations. The inclusion of women in apprenticeship training and university level STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects for environmentally sustainable jobs is crucial for overcoming gender disparities in the labour market and skill shortages in certain occupations.

Uneven progress in skills development for green jobs:
In the last decade, a number of countries have made progress in developing laws, regulations, strategies and plans covering environmental issues, but the pace at which these have been translated into economic and social policies, in particular skill and training policies, has varied.

Even though many developing countries have made progress in enacting a sound framework of environmental policies, realizing the potential of those policies in terms of green jobs is another matter. In particular, policy implementation is an issue. Typically, they lack strong institutions to enforce environmental regulations. Enforcement is made more difficult by the size of the informal economy – which poses a challenge for “greening” because it is, by definition, unregulated – as well as by a lack of viable alternative sources of income for people forced by economic circumstances exacerbated by the global financial crisis into environmentally deleterious activities.

In the period from 2010-2011 when the previous round of research was conducted on skills for green jobs, advanced and high-income countries typically had well-developed environmental regulations and had already responded to the green jobs challenge with a diverse range of polices and plans. However, the experience of some of these countries since then has shown that the green transition pathway is neither straight nor easy. There have been policy changes and even reversals; and in some countries, the growth in green jobs has levelled off. Today, there are wider and more general concerns that countries may not be making enough progress to avert dramatic climate change.

Policy coherence, sound governance systems and social dialogue are engines in accelerating the green transition and climate action:

The importance of social dialogue as a key means to improve the quality of policies on training provision and their relevance for the world of work is hard to overestimate. Social dialogue will remain part and parcel to enhancing the inclusive employability and productivity of current and potential workers, whether they be women or men, young or elderly. It will also remain a principal way to ensure equity in access to training, reskilling and upskilling measures, job matching and employment and will therefore remain the means of buffering negative consequences of transitional disruptions. Policy coherence is essentially a developmental issue, requiring institutional and capacity development measures and investments, including support through international development cooperation.

Climate change and other megatrends will have a substantial influence on the future workforce:
The green transition will not be a singular event resulting in massive adjustments of the current and potential workforce. Automation, demographic change, global trade and other megatrends will also have substantial impact. Multiple changes will require multiple transitions managed throughout careers. Access to skills training, raising environmental awareness and climate literacy for current workers, even those not affected by job displacement, will be essential for the implementation of greener ways of production and service delivery. The new jobs created in the environmentally sustainable economy will require higher qualifications and new sets of skills. Upskilling and reskilling workers, especially those most affected by the transition, will mean implementing lifelong learning strategies rather than front-loading qualifications that are expected to suffice for an entire career. The lifelong learning will need to include innovative and diverse ways of financing, combining private and public contributions, and allowing individuals to access funding and gain recognition for their learning outcomes, whether attained formally or informally.

Stepping up investments in people’s skills and lifelong learning are also key areas of focus of the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, adopted at the 108th session of the International Labour Conference in 2019. The new report provides some useful orientation in this area as it includes recommendations and concrete evidence of good practices collected in the surveyed countries that demonstrate how skills development can underpin the transition to make it just and inclusive. The results presented in the report on skills for a greener future has been welcomed by the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) as it translates skills priorities into concrete actions for forging and implementing policies and programmes that help people successfully weather the impact brought on by global drivers of change.