Environment

Green jobs for inclusive growth

08/07/2014

A circular economy in Europe will need a skilled workforce, trained and equipped for greener jobs.

The Green Week session on 'Green jobs and skills' focused on how private firms and public bodies are gearing up for the expected transformation. Speakers agreed on the need for a coherent legislative framework at EU level, covering all relevant policy areas, so that businesses have the confidence and certainty that investing in new jobs requires.

Dr Cristina Martinez, from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), emphasised that green jobs must create not only a sustainable economy but also a fairer and more inclusive society, with greater coherence between environmental and employment targets. "Traditionally, these two areas have been separate," she said. "What we need is multi-sectoral engagement."

"Green policy does not automatically generate jobs, or destroy them. It's a question of how we do it."

She presented two recent OECD reports on Greener Skills and Jobs and MakingInclusive Growth Happen. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), employment in green sectors such as wind and solar energy and water purification is growing strongly.

Restructuring and retraining is needed in a wide range of traditional industries including mining, cement, oil and chemicals, because innovations in those fields are generating the need for a workforce with very different skills from the traditional ones. But new positions, for example in green business management, tend to be held by men. "We need to focus on areas where gender is playing a role," she argued.

Some sectors, like recycling and waste management, have in the past employed mainly low-skilled workers, who will need to be offered the option of retraining where possible.  Another example is the mining industry, which is not only gender- but also age-specific. "Many miners are 50-plus, and if there is restructuring they are stuck with old skills. The greening of the economy must be an opportunity for inclusive growth," she said.  

Return on investment

José Lopes, Head of Technical Excellence at Jaguar Land Rover Ltd, described how the company is reskilling its engineering workforce, making processes more efficient and using materials in a more sustainable way. "It's important to show that we develop all our products not only according to what our customers require, but also what's needed for a sustainable business."

Jaguar has been running its Technical Accreditation Scheme for five years in collaboration with eight UK universities. "As we progress towards the greening of the economy, we have to embrace new, emerging technologies," he explained. Jaguar has developed a 50-module programme for up-skilling its engineering workforce.  A comprehensive evaluation of the programme showed a return on investment of more than 200%.

A persistent problem is that only 7% of engineers in the UK are female, and efforts to recruit more women have had no significant impact. This is "very worrying", he said.

Industrial collaboration across national frontiers is important. "The technological challenges facing the automotive industry have probably never been greater. Industry, universities and governments must work together collaboratively in advancing new research areas," said Mr Lopes.

Building skills

Austria has the highest proportion of green products and services in the EU. Johannes Fechner coordinates vocational education and training for the national climate initiative klimaaktiv. He noted that the country's green sector is developing well, with an increase in turnover from €31 billion in 2008 to €35 billion in 2012 (12% of GDP).

The approach to the low-carbon economy in Austria has three pillars: legislative, economic and education and training. A dual vocational education system enables young people to learn while they work as apprentices. He described the 'Build Up Skills' scheme for training blue-collar workers in the building sector. The EU Buildings Directive sets ambitious energy-saving targets which demand high-quality construction, and therefore additional skills. With state support, klimaaktiv has developed a freely available building standard which provides a guiding principle for environmental and energy-efficient design, with training and assessment tools.

The three key words are "governance, networking and integration," said Mr Fechner. Creating green jobs requires cost transparency – and this should include incorporating the price of limited resources – as well as integration and coordination between national and European strategies, and where the development of new technical skills is concerned.

The challenges

On behalf of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Detlef Eckert, Director of Europe 2020 and employment policies, highlighted two challenges facing the EU. The first is how to create the right conditions for more new jobs in the wake of the economic crisis. Second is the fear that strict environmental obligations could jeopardise jobs and competitiveness.

"Green policy does not automatically generate jobs, or destroy them," he argued. "It's a question of how we do it."

Speculating on what the EU's role should be, he said the recent European election results underlined that Brussels could not provide all the answers. Nonetheless, the EU does have a role to play in fostering skills, promoting mobility – since skilled people do not always live where they are needed – and supporting industrial restructuring, in cooperation with the social partners, particularly to counter people's fear of unemployment.

As regards education and training, Mr Eckert said public policy should be about "developing a skills-enabling infrastructure, at the disposal of the private sector" – especially SMEs.

The Commission is already cooperating with international organisations such as the OECD, and organising sectoral initiatives on strategies to move faster towards the prosperity that EU citizens expect. The Italian EU Presidency, along with Member State environment and employment ministers, is developing proposals that will be put to the new Commission. Coherence between EU financial and R&D policies is crucial to ensure that the EU is advancing technically and technologically. Although no additional funding will be available for reskilling within the existing EU budget, "We need to make the existing funds more efficient in this area. Member States should learn from one another and set reforms in motion. The challenges will be enormous," said Mr Eckert.

 

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