By Katharine Mullock.
On Tuesday, the EU joined more than 55 other countries, including China and the United States, in ratifying the Paris climate agreement, thus setting it in motion. Negotiated almost a year ago, the climate deal commits countries to freeze further increases in the global average temperature to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”. By putting pressure on governments to take policy action towards emissions reduction, this type of international climate agreement raises an important skills-related question: will workers have the skills to match the increased demand for “green skills” that such policy action could stimulate?
But before we can answer this question, we need to be clear about what “green skills” are. Despite enjoying more regular use in policy circles, the term “green skills” does not have a commonly-accepted definition (OECD/Cedefop 2014).
But new research takes a first data-driven step towards shedding light on this concept. Consoli, Marin, Marzucchi and Vona (2016) employ a U.S. database of occupational characteristics (skills, tasks, work context and work activities), called O*NET , to analyse the skill content of a set of previously-classified “green jobs.” Green jobs, according to O*NET, include both existing occupations that are changing in response to demands for environmental sustainability (e.g. managers, truck drivers, and construction workers), as well as new occupations that are emerging as a response to specific needs of the green economy, like recycling workers, sustainability specialists and energy auditors.
Employing statistical analysis to evaluate the set of skills most important to green jobs, Consoli et al. (2016) assess that “green jobs use more intensively high-level cognitive and interpersonal skills compared to non-green jobs.” They also find that the work content of green jobs is less routinised, on average, than that of non-green jobs. They interpret this finding to mean that “the process of reconverting production and distribution activities towards more sustainable standards is a path currently under construction.”
Unsurprisingly, in addition to these differences between green and non-green jobs, the authors also find significant heterogeneity across green jobs. Consistent with the OECD’s Greener Skills and Jobs, they find that green-jobs are over-represented in high-skill occupations like Management (22.1% of green employment vs. only 5.1% of total employment), and Architecture and Engineering (9% of green employment vs. only 2% of total employment). But they are also over-represented in low-skill occupations, including Construction and Extraction (12% of green employment vs. 4% of total employment), and Installation, Maintenance and Repair (14% of green employment vs. 4% of total employment).
Finally, the study’s results also draw attention to differences between types of green jobs. Relative to existing green jobs, new green jobs (i.e. those that emerged in response to the needs of the green economy) are strongly associated with on-the-job training, while traditional dimensions of human capital like formal education and work experience do not appear to be important. This finding most likely reflects that formal course offerings and degree programs are not yet well-developed for these new green jobs. This means that we may not be able to rely on education policy to fill green skill shortages and gaps in the short-term, but instead will have to look to policies which promote learning by doing.
Other recent studies (Cedefop, 2010; ILO, 2011) have argued that existing skill shortages in STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) could be aggravated in the move towards a greener economy. There will be a greater reliance on the technical skills possessed by engineers, to support the transition to a low-carbon economy, as green innovation is largely technology-driven. In addition to technical skills, more generic skills like resilience, cognitive adaptability, and problem-solving have also been identified as important in the green economy (Consoli et al., 2016; ILO, 2011).
As government policy, and increasingly consumer sentiment, push for reduced emissions in production, it is important that skill development be responsive. The new study by Consoli et al., takes a first data-driven step towards defining what “green skills” look like. The authors acknowledge that work remains to define these skills in a more specific way so that qualification and training requirements can be developed and updated. Exercises like the OECD’s current project on the assessment of skill needs are also helpful to assist policy makers to better match skill supply with changing skill demand, in order to reduce the costly effects of skill shortages.
Consoli, D., Marin, G., Marzucchi, A., and Vona, F., 2016. “Do green jobs differ from non-green jobs in terms of skills and human capital?” Research Policy, Volume 45, Issue 5, June 2016. An earlier version of this paper is available here.