It is not hard to recall what drove those with the most in-demand talents. It was the chance to work on the cutting-edge, to help develop products and services that changed the world, and the global economy with it.
Young people today are intensely climate-conscious, and their values are reflected in their choice of job. In Accenture's recent 'Youthquake Meets Green Economy' report, for instance, 77 percent of Asia Pacific youth aspire to get a green job within the next decade: they want a career that contributes to environmental sustainability, in an organisation that has a sustainable agenda. And they are optimistic about their dreams: more than half of them believe they will be able to land such a job.
But dream jobs require matching skills, and today's hopeful youth may not necessarily be thinking about “green skills” when they seek out green jobs.
"What they want is employment opportunities with companies that are making positive environmental impact," explained Dr. Vedrana Savic, Managing Director of Accenture Research. "79 percent of the youth in Asia Pacific agree, and their peers in Europe and US are not far behind."
This World Youth Skills Day, People Matters asked Dr. Savic about the outlook for young people who seek climate-positive careers. Are their aspirations supported by their capabilities? Do today's hopeful youth have the skills they need to back up the values they proudly espouse? And what can they do to make themselves a match for the green jobs they desire?
What kind of "green skills" will young people need to pursue green jobs today?
It is important to recognise that green jobs fall into three categories:
- Producing new green goods and services (e.g., jobs including solar panel designers; clean technology designers; bio/nano fuel cell engineers)
- Adapting existing goods and services to be greener (e.g., jobs including energy efficient automotive designers; industrial ecologists)
- Managing and supporting the green economy (e.g., jobs including green educators; environmental scientists; environmental economists; ESG advisors).
In many of those jobs, young people will need to develop a “skill mix”, which may involve technical skills, industry skills, and importantly, digital skills. Think about a potential future job called Agronomist-Technologist operating at the intersection of the agriculture and technology domains to help local farmers reap the benefits from productivity gains in land use, or a Breathable Concrete Designer, someone who helps to develop a novel, alternative, organic material for the construction industry to build low-energy buildings.
Accenture's report characterises green economy skills as being hybrid, specialised, and vocational. To what extent do the skills owned by today's youth match these needs?
Looking over the past few decades, it is not hard to recall what drove those with the most in-demand talents—apart from financial considerations. It was the chance to work on the cutting-edge, to help develop products and services that changed the world, and the global economy with it. Or, in a word, the chance to be in the thick of innovation. This is where we are today with green technology. And companies, consumers, and societies need breakthrough solutions. Think hydrogen-powered batteries small enough to be used in everyday appliances, such as a barbecue or a bicycle. Many solutions will emerge at the intersection of multiple disciplines: technology, science, engineering and economics.
Companies will need to design new hybrid teams to drive breakthrough solutions that are green by design. Expertise will be required in unusual combinations such as chemical engineering-plus-innovation and climate science-plus-AI. Or electric vehicle research and human psychology. The entrepreneurial business leaders we spoke with agree there are “roles in the making” like: Bio Polymer Engineer (a combination of marine scientist, polymer expert and bio-tech researcher to develop alternative plastics from living organisms); Nanotechnologist (using nanotechnology and nanomaterials for sustainable solutions, for example batteries).
Today’s sustainability problems will demand fresh, hybrid talent that will not only shape the future green economy, but also successfully run it. And this is where some of the existing skills that already have a green focus come in (e.g., environmental protection law; ecological management; e-waste recycling).
I would like to emphasise that not all green jobs require advanced degrees – a large portion of green skills will be needed in entry-level roles and require vocational qualifications.
Why? Because the transition to a green economy in Asia Pacific will demand new physical infrastructure (e.g., green buildings and sustainable transportation networks) to be built. Our modelling reveals that close to 25 million new jobs will be needed in construction and manufacturing sectors, which typically have a relatively larger proportion of entry level roles that require vocational rather than advanced qualifications.
Accenture's report also highlights a large gap between the green jobs available and the number of youth who want these jobs. For young people who can't get a green job per se, what other uses might they be able to turn their green-related skillsets to?
Most green jobs are unlikely to require the same level of technical skills like data science does. For instance, emissions accounting does not require environmental science, but knowledge of emissions standards and compliance. We also expect that youth with engineering, technology, banking skills would be highly sought after to address issues ranging from ESG, to circular economy, and impact investing as more companies recognise the need to move more rapidly toward environmentally sustainable business outcomes.
What can the education system, companies, or maybe even society at large do to equip youth with the skills that match their green aspirations?
Based on our research, youth in the region are eager to receive the specialised training, especially in the entry-level jobs. For companies, this creates unique opportunities to invest in upskilling or reskilling these aspiring young workers – thus ensuring they have the opportunity to maximise their employment potential over time.
Companies should seize this willingness to learn, and help aspiring young workers be better prepared for the new possibilities in the green economy.
There are three key actions companies can take to maximise this opportunity: Investing in baseline training programs that certify incoming semi-skilled or unskilled workers, and establish on-the-job “upskilling” and specialisation pathways for employees; open entry-level employment paths through innovative partnerships with academic and vocational institutions; and create exchange and rotation programs for young employees between their legacy and new business lines.
Governments around the region have also made recent moves to better equip talent here – such as a new career Conversion Programme (CCP) for clean and renewable energy professionals that was rolled out by Workforce Singapore and Singapore Polytechnic in September last year. We anticipate more concerted efforts to create new jobs and upskill talent to support the green transition.
Finally, what are your hopes for the contributions young people with green skills can make in the economy of today and tomorrow?
One reason why young people are drawn to the green economy is because they understand the volatile position our planet is in, and they want to take action. From changing consumption patterns to making important employment choices. Green pathways are opening up and young people now have the opportunity to reimagine work in the green economy.
My hope is that companies will create more inclusive opportunities for young people to actively participate through paid work, whether from their laptops, on the roads building new infrastructure, or on farms and in labs creating new solutions.