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Green skills and environmental awareness – how will it affect jobs and vocational education and training?

In recent years, Cedefop has been investigating the skills and training needs generated by the development of the green economy. Now, a workshop held in London on 5 October 2011 has validated the first results of a study of the current and future skills and training needs of nine selected occupations affected by the development of a more resource-efficient economy.

The study was conducted in eight European countries (Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia and the UK) and looked at the following occupations: nanotechnologist, engineering technologist and environmental engineer as examples of high skilled occupations; energy auditor, transport vehicle emissions inspector, insulation worker, electrician, solar photovoltaic installer and sheet metal worker as examples of intermediate skilled occupations; refuse/recycling collector as an example of a low skilled occupation.

The main messages emerging from the study can be summarised as follows:

Employment trends. Male workers dominate the vast majority of the occupations under study, particularly in construction, while female workers are slightly more numerous in new technologies and occupations providing clear, direct environmental benefits. Some of these occupations seem to have little appeal to younger workers, put off by practical, technical work or a perception that the work is ‘dirty’.

Recruitment. At present, multiple entry routes and varied levels of qualification lead to the occupations in question. This raises questions about how far learning provisions match skill requirements and how far effective recognition, and hence mobility, is ensured. This may be important in the future for location-specific occupations such as installers of photovoltaic panels. Difficulties also persist in recognising or assessing practical skills and informal and on-the-job learning.

Current and future skill needs. At present the skills supply seems to be adequate. This is probably due to the economic slow-down and there may be problems in store in the event of an economic upturn. Skill shortages are already evident in Germany and the Netherlands. Tasks in certain occupations in the study are undergoing adaptation and reorientation as a result of environmental and technological change. Forecasts suggest that, as economies recover, there will be a growing demand for electricians, sheet metal workers and insulation workers in wide range of countries. Future changes are expected in the type and level of skill required to perform tasks in the occupations.

Training. Effective training can be seen as an indicator of an enterprise’s ability to adapt to occupational change and is reportedly more readily available to employees in Finland, the Netherlands and the UK. Understandably, training occurs more frequently when licences or certification are important for the occupations under analysis. Regulatory updates and standard-setting as well as more general health and safety requirements are typical components of much of the training provision. Funding gaps and new, not yet recognised occupations may be factors leading to mismatches in training provisions. The main challenge for learning providers is the uncertainty surrounding employers’ needs. Moreover, while current demand for green skills is low, over half of providers anticipate strong growth in demand from both workers and employers and anticipate that training will be needed primarily for existing workers.

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