The notion of green skills

All views expressed in this article are those of the author

In attending COP26 as a careers adviser I was alert to any mention of skill requirements or discussions around the future of our workforce. Most sessions I attended talked of green jobs and the importance of youth involvement, but I still felt at a loss as to what future employers would look for in students and graduates aspiring to work in this emerging market. You can imagine my delight, then, when I came across a session hosted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) talking about the skills for a just transition to achieve the Paris Agreement and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With panellists including the vice-president, head of global public policy at LinkedIn, the UN secretary general youth advisor on climate and green jobs and the global coordinator of Green Jobs, part of the ILO, I was certain that this session would allow me to return to work with a comprehensive list of what students need to succeed in a ‘green’ career. An hour and 15 minutes later and I was none the wiser. Whilst an interesting discussion had certainly taken place, and some key points were made, I felt a distinct lack of clarity on the tangible skills young people could be developing to succeed in the world of work in the time of the just transition.

The need for social dialogue was heavily emphasised in this session, as it was in most of the others I attended. The president of the Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment Section (NAT) at the European Economic and Social Committee talked at length about the need to organise communities and drive the just transition by supporting economic growth through communication between people. The panel discussed the need to understand, assess and model policy investment scenarios in regards to how these changes would impact things like income. It was agreed that the people need to be consulted on new measures that will affect their livelihoods, for example when non-traditional green sectors create new green jobs. There was mention that jobs will become redundant and the question of reskilling to allow the previous workforce to find employment elsewhere. The consensus was that there is a need to merge adaptation policies with social security, shrouded in an overall message of positivity as we construct this transition narrative.

What I felt was missing, however, was the tangible skills and jobs, the specific details that would allow for better understanding of gaps going forward. There was a point made about hard and soft skills, and how both are needed as we move forwards. There was talk of the fact that some skills are now not as relevant as they used to be, and points made about green skills being more in demand in the global north than in the global south. However, I was unable to note a single example of the skills or contexts in which they could be utilised, as none were brought forth. Despite the moderator asking clearly and concisely for the skills that will be required to achieve the seventeen SDGs, the panel were unable to come up with any, and instead avoided the question with more waffle about engaging young people on the ground with relevant work. What was agreed upon was the fact that green skills now appear in jobs across a range of sectors, even ones you might not consider to be typically ‘green’. Here one example was given, the job of growth manager. As to which specific green skills growth managers are set to employ in their line of work moving forwards, your guess is as good as mine. No examples, evidence or clarification was given.

On the topic of employment, the panel were slightly more confident. They talked about the fact that the job potential coming from the just transition constitutes more than simply ‘green jobs’ and split it down into three categories. The coordinator of the Green Jobs Programme at the ILO explained the concept, talking about the employment gains achieved through green investment. These gains can be measured through direct employment, indirect employment, and induced employment, whereby having employees inject money into an economy facilitates greater employment opportunities down the line. What again seemed to have been left out was the technicalities of creating new jobs. They talked about the need to think beyond the green sector and ensure green skills are permeating all sectors and the need for active labour points, creating jobs for people, bringing the jobs to them wherever they are.

Rehashed at this point was the need for social dialogue to anticipate new job opportunities, but I continued to feel lost as to the aptitudes and attitudes required of our young people going forwards. The vice-president, head of global public policy and economic graph team at LinkedIn discussed the green skills lens that LinkedIn have adopted and the importance of supporting entrepreneurs. She explained that further detail will be explored soon in an upcoming report. I for one hope that it will contain concise labour market information. In conclusion, and despite the slightly abstract nature of the discussion, it was understood that ambitious action on climate change will provide more jobs than losses. What those jobs are, where they will be found, and which skills will be needed for them is still to be seen.

However, hope is not lost! Here at the Careers and Employability Service we are constantly looking to learn more about new jobs across a range of sectors. Our priority is to ensure our students and graduates are equipped for the world of work and have the confidence to find, apply for, and succeed in the job that is right for them. In May 2020 we created the Aberdeen Employability Boost Award to encourage professional development and make a point of incorporating our employer partners to ensure timely and accurate communications. Over the past 18 months we have hosted several organisations and individuals for events focusing on sectors such as environment, finance, and digital and more wider topics such as skills for net zero. In other sessions we have focused on how students can stand out in their applications and why employers are looking for more than just a degree grade. We have speakers from big companies and SMEs and are constantly working to include relevant, useful insight to help us adapt to the world of work as it evolves. Our next series of Boost events will take place in February where we will be inviting more of our organisation and employer partners to speak with us. If there are certain topics you’d like us to cover, please let us know by emailing us at

Published by Research, University of Aberdeen


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