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Fostering a more sustainable and resilient society: role of skills policies

13 June 2023

Colleges are playing an important and growing role in supporting the green transition. There are a number of different elements to this – including in supporting people to develop skills that they need and employers will need to support a greener economy, in supporting employers with the wider implications of this transition, and in building and maintaining campuses that are net zero, biodiverse and resilient to environment change.

There are significant policy and political developments in this agenda across the UK and Ireland, and internationally – and so a huge amount of mutual learnings and challenges to share. These initiatives include the Climate Action Roadmap for FE Colleges, developed by the Commission for UK Higher and Further Education, and a raft of policy work from Colleges Scotland, the College Development Network, ColeaguCymru, the Association of Colleges, SOLAS, the EAUC, ETF and others.

On Tuesday 6 June, the Four Nations College Alliance hosted a webinar with Michele Tuccio at the OECD, and discussed the international policy approaches to skills for the green transition, together with Ida Rönnblom, who showcased the ways in which they are navigating the labour and skills shortages they face in the north of Sweden, where the energy sector is transitioning to renewable sources with the aim of reaching their climate goals of being fossil free by 2045.

If you missed it, you can watch the recording here, and read on for our recap.

Policies for the green transition

Internationally, the green transition will require countries and regions to support the reallocation of workers from non-green sectors, as well as reskilling workers as the nature of their roles change. As each country strives to achieve ambitious zero emissions targets, jobs that are in high emission sectors will need to contract causing skills redundancies, while green sectors and firms will expand, creating more ‘green jobs’.

There are different approaches that can be taken to support the green transition. Governments often establish policies aimed at a specific sector, for example renewable energy, regardless of whether every job in that sector is defined as a green job. Another approach is to implement policies that affect certain occupations – by making a specific occupation type greener, you can create change across multiple sectors where this role applies, not just within a ‘green sector.’ Finally, there is subset of studies from countries who are forming policies by looking at skills and defining whether they are green tasks. Michele suggests this is a more fruitful approach, arguing that, “once you go into this groundwork type of analysis, you're able to unpack a whole new area of policies, because here you are able to see that actually, there is no job or no sector, that is a hundred percent green. But every job has a different intensity of green tasks - so every job can become a little bit more greener. We just need to identify what those green tasks are and foster them in each occupation

Skills for the green transition not ‘green skills’

Reflecting the point above, the OECD do not use the term green skills. Michele encourages us to instead speak of ‘skills for the green transition, because skills themselves cannot be defined as green or non-green - it is the purpose for which you use skills that make them useful for the green transition.

Two features of skills for the green transition.

  • Jobs can have different degrees and combination of skills that determine how green the job is.
  • Skills to support wider innovation and adaptability will be as important to the green transition as specific technical skills.

Skills for the green transition exist in every job, but to varying degrees. For the green transition to be successful we need to look beyond just technical skills: as Michele argues, “transversal and foundational skills are key. If we want to achieve a faster green transition then every skill that can help support innovation, adaptability, management, and coordination will also be fundamental.

Breadth of policies for the green transition

When thinking about policies to aid the green transition, we need to look beyond just skills policies. Whilst there is a lot we can do in this area, such as updating and creating qualifications and curricula, determining study places based on the skills needs of the future and retraining the trainers, we need to look also to key related areas such as employment and immigration.

We were fortunate to have Ida join us on the online seminar to talk through a case study for the green transition within Sweden – concentrating on North Sweden’s industrial green revolution.

Not just regional issue

Ida emphasised the fact that the impact of the north of Sweden’s green transition is not simply regional: “the skill supply in the north of Sweden is a key factor for a greener tomorrow, and therefore it also concerns the whole of Sweden. It's not a regional issue - it's actually an issue for the entire country, even though it happens in a very small piece of the country.

Societal transformation

The industrial green revolution in the north of Sweden is bringing about considerable societal transformation – with 25,000 new industrial jobs, and as many as 100,000 new jobs in total. They have now moved on from talking about skills shortages and are talking about the shortage of people - questioning how they encourage people to move to the north of Sweden and then, in turn, build a society that is marked by sustainability and green skills. “We're not only focusing on the industrialization, but we're focusing on the full societal transformation because they come hand in hand. We will not get people to move here and work within the green industry if they don't have work; if the society surrounding it isn't working.”

Impact on green transition on other sectors

In the case study of the north of Sweden, the largest challenges they are facing with their green transition relates to the impact it is having on other sectors - most notably across public services. By creating a green industrial revolution, they are requiring a whole societal transformation and now have skills shortages across all public services such as education, health and housing. Ida argues that “as the region grows, you need, for example, new housing - and this housing also needs to be built sustainably, because people want to come here to live and to work within the green industry. So, we have an entire chain of green skills emerging

“It's not a one man show”

Ida is one of six people working in the Public Employment Service’s ‘office for transition and matching in the North.’ However, they work with a wider group of colleagues across the national Public Employment Service, and work with many close partners. Their team consists of competences that complement one another – from sales to knowledge of legislation and relevant regulations. It is essential for them to work with partners across all sectors – including universities, vocational training providers and employers, as well as partners across the public sector.

The case of North Sweden highlights the scale of the challenge for a successful green transition. In creating thriving green energy industries, we need to look at all other sectors too. As Michele talked about earlier in the online seminar, every job is a green job to varying degrees - and therefore, successful green transition will mean all jobs being a little bit greener. It is going to be the role of education leaders to be at the forefront of these changes. But as Ida mentioned, no one can do it alone – policy makers and sectors leaders are going to have to work together if we want to achieve a green economy and world.

You can watch the recording here, including the Q&A section where our speakers answer questions on funding and partnerships.

The Four Nations College Alliance would like to thank to Michele from the OECD and Ida from Sweden’s PES Office for their thought-provoking presentations and talking to us about skills for the green transition.