The Last Word March/April 2024: Dr Cath Sleeman


Greening the job market.

When we think about doing our part to tackle the climate crisis, we might reflect on the things we buy, the food we eat or the way we travel. But how much do we think about how the way we work affects the planet?

What are ‘green jobs’?

We often hear about ‘green jobs’, with people in hard hats and high-vis jackets pictured in front of wind turbines. But this idea is part of the problem. ‘Green jobs’ implies that a role is either entirely green or not green. However, many roles increasingly contain some green responsibilities, even if they are not ostensibly ‘green jobs’.

Take the case of a supply chain manager. Their job would not be thought of as green, but they may now be expected to consider the carbon footprint of the firm’s supply chain, alongside more traditional goals of maximising efficiency and minimising costs.

‘Green jobs’ also suggests that there is a single type of greenness. But consider a sustainability adviser who works for a petrochemical company. Is their job green? They may require various types of green knowledge to perform their job, and they may reduce the company’s carbon emissions, but their employer is not ultimately situated in a green industry.

The lack of monitoring and information on green skills threatens to slow the transition to net zero and stops us planning for the future”

Creating the market for green skills

Last year, the European Commission identified 571 green skills and knowledge concepts that are required within occupations as varied as manufacturing, auditing and education.

However, for UK workers wishing to acquire relevant green skills for their jobs, there’s very little information available. None of the major job boards allow users to search for roles that require green skills or for jobs that are situated in low-emitting firms or sectors. There’s also no official and ongoing monitoring of the green skills in every occupation.

The lack of monitoring and information on green skills threatens to slow the transition to net zero and stops us planning for the future in three ways.

Firstly, it takes the pressure off sectors sitting outside the ‘green’ economy, instead of them sharing responsibility for reducing emissions by transitioning workforces and industries.

Secondly, it risks hampering workers and jobseekers from driving change. It deters them from acquiring green skills and it impedes their ability to consider ‘greenness’ in the same way they might consider salary, working hours, company benefits or social responsibility, and incentivising employers competing for talent.

Lastly, it hinders government responses, preventing policymakers from identifying regions or sectors where firms may be struggling to adapt.

Build transparency for a sustainable tomorrow

To tackle this problem, Nesta is using AI to extract the green skills mentioned in job adverts and combine them with industry emissions data to gauge the ‘greenness’ of any job, occupation or sector and understand which green skills are most in demand. By giving workers, employers, recruiters and policymakers the information they need we can one day empower the whole workforce to help build a more sustainable future.

Dr Cath Sleeman is head of data discovery, data analytics practice, [email protected].

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