Young woman with wind turbines

Why employers need to support green career paths

Image credit: Photographerlondon/Dreamstime

Sustainable technology skills aren’t keeping pace with net zero strategies that will create millions of new jobs across industry. Tackling that gap needs an innovative approach to upskilling that includes making careers attractive to young people.

Green jobs are on the rise, as all areas of business take charge of sustainability in operations and decision-making like never before. Across industries, the mission to double down on sustainability is driving job growth and creating millions of new career paths in sectors ranging from clean energy, construction and manufacturing to low-emissions tech.

Net employment prospects are clear: globally, the green transition could be the driving force behind 30 million freshly created jobs by 2030. And businesses are all too aware that moving quickly could deliver big results, in terms of both the environment and business growth. Many are voting with their feet and showing real resolve to pivot at pace, but the reality is they need workforces equipped with the knowledge and skills to unleash the opportunities a low-carbon future can bring.

Currently, the number of skilled professionals isn’t keeping pace with demand, but the silver lining in the tale is that there’s an enormous opportunity and a world of effective ways to turn that around and make sustainability part of the workforce. As Johnson Controls’ CEO George Oliver has acknowledged, we have the technology, financing, partnerships, and people to turn buildings from one of the greatest challenges, into one of the biggest and quickest contributors to achieving net zero.

We often say that any serious initiative ‘takes a village’ to make it happen. But when it comes to net zero, it’s more truthful to say that it takes an army. As competition for talent heats up across industries, demand for qualified candidates is running at record highs.

Innovation in tech and its wide potential is grabbing headlines, pulling focus, and pushing the drive for sustainable talent to the top of the business agenda. There has been a surge in interest in the role next-gen green tech has to play in driving down emissions. The adoption and innovation of climate tech can deliver real solutions, combined with a trained and equipped workforce to deliver it.

When plotting the path forward, enterprises need employees who can help design and implement net-zero strategies that deliver for the environment and the business. They need skilled engineers to build, monitor and maintain these systems, and they need a broad range of skills in specialised areas such as solar and heat pump technologies.

As a £90bn industry that can be unlocked further, there is huge promise in the UK’s growing net-zero economy, in connection with the country’s levelling up scheme across major cities and regions. It’s a unique set of circumstances, spurring emerging interest in reskilling and upskilling programmes, with the goal of taking sustainability full throttle, plus the bonus potential of employee engagement and competitive edge.

To succeed, these new systems will need to be supported by better models, operations, and people strategies that empower workforces as agents of change. The good news is we don’t need to make the switch alone. Tackling challenges and building agility into a business’s DNA is an exercise in collaboration at its heart. Doing this effectively means change across workforces and operations. Despite the challenges we have a clear call to action: set a whole new standard through one powerful trifecta of people, technology and processes.

A successful approach to upskilling takes a brand new company-wide way of working, and a full review of processes to ensure practical delivery. Beyond the operational changes, you need a collaborative workforce that understands the positive impact of sustainability, and the right tools to implement these new sustainable measures.

Bold upskilling plans start with a highly competent and passionate core team to champion the culture shift and set the right tone for company-wide buy-in. The next step is all about taking a top-down mindset that involves all teams across an organisation playing their part in the process. Businesses that promote general sustainability competency and help employees combine their current functional skills with the necessary sustainability skills for their role are bringing all the parts of the process together and will be best positioned for success.

Businesses in the upskilling phase are aided by the core team of sustainability experts established in the mobilisation stage. If they step up their enablement efforts as they start to change the way the business operates, they can move quickly.

By utilising green partnerships with educational institutions, businesses can identify the skills and knowledge needed in the workforce and ensure that education and training programmes are aligned with their needs for now and the future.

Government plays a big role, too, by raising public awareness about the benefits of green jobs and the importance of transitioning to a low-carbon economy. This will help to create demand for green jobs and encourage more people to pursue careers in this field. Strong incentives include those to strengthen the focus on apprenticeship and internship programmes within the green sector, and the significant reform to equip 11–16-year-olds with the skills needed to implement effective green governance in the future. This is a vital age group, as one in three young people in the UK are concerned about both their futures and the successful transition to sustainability.

To support the younger generation, who will soon enter the workforce or finish education, businesses can encourage practical, on-the-job training and work experience for people who are interested in pursuing green careers. When evaluating a company's culture and values, just over one in four (26 per cent) of the adults surveyed by the WEF in Europe said that sustainability is one of their top non-negotiables. Professionals now have a strong and growing desire to work for an organisation that values the environment and where they can make a difference in combating climate change.

We know that young people are crucial to achieving net zero because they bring fresh ideas, methods, and viewpoints to climate-change problems and solutions. Businesses must focus on utilising this talent pool and fostering skill development now, because the need to innovate and explore technologies will persist in the years to come.

It’s also vital for businesses to open up new talent pools by leaning into upskilling and development that involves current workforces at every level, making them part of the solution and well positioned to capture the massive opportunities a low carbon future has to offer, and upskill and develop their existing workforce to retain their best people.

While it's critical for companies to set an example and demonstrate their understanding of issues like diversity, ethics, and employee satisfaction, the greatest reward comes from having a real-world impact. Businesses can use their authority to promote and support sustainability goals both internally and externally.

Every level of an organisation should incorporate sustainability, especially into its objectives and practices. This can be done by informing the workforce and offering rewards, like compensation for C-suite [senior executive] committees, in line with sustainability and diversity goals.

There is much work to be done, but every reason for optimism. We can quickly make employees an essential part of the sustainability journey. We have seven years to reach the 2030 milestone, and we can do it if we build the sustainable workforce now.

Paul Wrighton is director of sustainable infrastructure at Johnson Controls.

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