Skills for a Green Economy: What are the Trends and Where are the Gaps?

Angie - Test Knowles, | November-04-11



Skills for a Green Economy


As the green economy continues to expand, major questions continue to linger around exactly how green growth will affect employment.


Will we see entirely new jobs, or simply changes to existing occupations? Furthermore, which particular skills in these jobs will be the most important? Are there skills that are already in short supply?


In a preliminary exploration of these questions, ECO Canada’s Defining the Green Economy reviewed the perspectives of major industry stakeholders and companies engaged in green industries and activities. These respondents offered a number of powerful insights into the skill trends and gaps of the emerging green economy, including:


The overall impact on employment

There was general consensus amongst key informants that green economic growth is mainly producing an adaptation or reallocation of present jobs, with workers learning new skills and/or expanding their original skill-sets.


As noted in the study, “No distinctly new skill sets emerge as necessities for operating in these increased environmental capacities. Rather, focus will remain more on diversification of existing skills applications relating to the green economy among existing trades and professions.”


While the growth of the green economy has also produced new or unique jobs, this is not as prominent of an effect as the modification of existing work.


General Skill and Knowledge Trends

Several broad shifts are occurring in the skill and knowledge expectations for workers in the green economy.


According to the report, there is a growing demand for systems integration and interdisciplinary cooperation, in which workers must demonstrate a strong awareness both of issues across topics, as well as the various ways that diverse business areas connect with one another.


With the quick pace of technological advancements, the growth of the green economy has also placed a heavier emphasis on higher technical competence as green employees are required to work with increasingly complicated technological systems.


Specific Specialized Skills Requirements

In addition to the more general trends above, industry insiders also noted what specialized skills, knowledge, training and/or experience are essential amongst their staff.


These included specific environmental training or education (such as LEED certification or agriculture), industrial trades/occupational experience, skills in engineering, remediation, pollutant mitigation or treatment of the environment, and skills related to reducing environmental impact.


Skill Gaps

To support the continued development of green industries, Defining the Green Economy found that more skill development is needed in three consistent areas.


The first skill gap involves professionals’ ability to adapt to rapid technological change. According to a number of respondents in the study, this “skill set is often non-existent or extremely difficult to find.”


In the second skill shortage, more workers are needed who possess adequate knowledge of sustainable development and practices, particularly in the areas of carbon trading and environmental finance.


Lastly, there is a noticeable skills gap in workers’ demonstration of interdisciplinary thinking, in which a thorough understanding is needed of broad green issues and their applicability across different disciplines.


With the growth of the green economy still at a nascent stage, more information is needed to build on Defining the Green Economy’s preliminary insights. Some of this work is currently underway in ECO Canada’s present study-in-progress, Developing Canada’s Green Economy.


In the meantime, what are your own thoughts on the effects of green growth? Has the development of the green economy affected skills requirements and expectations, in your view?