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Green skills vital to EU future

20/09/2010

  • Experts interviews
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Peter Szovics of Cedefop believes many of the skills required for eco-innovation should come from improving current competences but green skills will become important to all jobs.

Szovics is a senior expert at the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) in Thessaloniki, Greece – an EU agency that promotes and develops vocational education and training. He is responsible for the sectoral approach and financing, and is involved in early identification of skills needs and exploring green jobs.

Cedefop organised a workshop on future skills for the green economy in 2008. It launched a study with the International Labour Organization (ILO) on skills for green jobs in the light of climate change and environmental degradation. It took a qualitative approach and gathered case studies to show how this transition was happening.

What is the need/demand for green skills training in Europe?

There is an emerging consensus that to have the fundamental skills for the transition to a low-carbon economy, the emphasis must be on improving current skills rather than developing new programmes. In a parallel to the ICT industry, where 30 years ago IT skills became vital to our working life, green skills will become important to almost every job.

Our studies show the level of retraining required for workers to convert to an entirely different greener industry may be less than expected. Skills in old or declining industries may be valuable to a low-carbon economy. For example workers in shipbuilding or the oil and gas sector are sought after in the renewable-energy industry for their skills in welding, surface treatment and outfitting.

There is a deficit in management and technical jobs-specific skills, many related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This is of greater concern than shortages of new green skills as it affects the whole of industry.

Demands for green skills are company and sector specific but professions in renewable energy and energy efficiency are in demand. This is a main message from our research. Our studies indicate for example shortages of suitable applicants in German solar-cell manufacture and great demand in France for new competences and mid-life qualifications.

There is a major lack in teachers because in most countries, highly qualified teachers tend to go and work in the industry itself where they have better prospects and pay!

What type of training is already available and what should be developed?

Given a sound basis of generic skills, upskilling or adding to existing skills will enable someone to carry out the full range of tasks required by new green occupations. However, some sectors require significant new skills – for example building zero-carbon homes where energy efficiency is driven by national legislation. It also depends on the numbers that need training.

Occupations that have been converted into new green jobs include: upskilling industrial electricians to manage renewable energy in Denmark, upgrading construction workers to energy auditors in Estonia, retraining mechatronics technicians as wind-power technicians in Germany, additional training to upskill engineering technicians for the smart energy sector in the UK and retraining commodities traders as carbon traders.

What can companies do themselves to foster green skills?

Companies have an important role in ensuring continuing vocational training. Some have set up their own facilities – such as the Corporate University operated by Spanish wind-turbine manufacturer Gamesa or the Siemens wind-power training centre in Germany. Green restructuring is also involved. For example, shipbuilding and marine engineering activities are refocusing on offshore renewable energy such as windfarm construction and their supply and maintenance.

In Denmark, closure of the Lithgo shipyard resulted in a forum to retrain workers in offshore renewable energy. In the UK, Belfast shipbuilder Harland and Wolf now dismantles ships. Vehicle manufacturers and supply chains have refocused on hybrid and electric vehicles – BMW is training electricians and technicians to handle higher voltages; and Nissan and the NE England regional authority created a plan for wholly electric vehicles. Training in new technologies and management in Estonia was devised across the supply chain to clean up oil-shale production

What should public authorities do to ensure the necessary training?

Regional governments have led the way in providing comprehensive and organised skills strategies. They have developed successful public-private initiatives that have achieved impressive results and could be considered as best practice. In Denmark, France, Spain and the UK, regions are taking the primary role in identifying skills needed. For example, in the UK low-carbon economic areas are being set up at regional level to stimulate employer demand for low carbon skills. It also important that environmental strategies at national level should have a skills development component – difficult to achieve without!

More information

Related information on the EcoAP Website