Green skills have been in the limelight for quite some time now. They are seen in many quarters as something akin to ICT skills: not just as specialist knowledge, but as key competencies that underlie a vast swathe of jobs across sectors. But the present crisis is leading to cutbacks in education and training, affecting the development of such skills. What can be done to convince employers and training providers to change tack.

A team from Cedefop is presenting conclusions from its latest research on the green economy in the upcoming Cedefop/OECD “Skills for a low carbon economy” forum (27 February). 

The study focuses on the availability of green skills in eight EU countries, which are at different stages of developing sustainable economies. The 9 jobs it examines in depth cover the entire educational spectrum, from nanotechnologists to energy auditors to recycling collectors. 

In most countries, the economic downturn has resulted in less training in green skills. This is mainly because employers believe they can easily source the necessary skills in a “buyer’s market” of high unemployment.

But this may cause trouble down the line. In fact, countries with low unemployment are already facing a skills shortage in these areas.

Demographic trends and the gender gap mean that too few people are acquiring higher qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Meanwhile, low-skilled jobs in the sector suffer from a negative image among young people.

According to Cedefop’s Antonio Ranieri, 'policy makers, social partners and training providers should work together so that we can better forecast green skills needs, and provide appropriate vocational education and training. National policies also need to deal with the fact that two crucial groups - young people and women – don’t consider green jobs desirable.” 

There are other factors at work besides the economic crisis. The study of green skill needs reveals problems with recognition and validation. In some cases, regional authorities may establish different standards even within the same country. As a result, companies may not know how and where to find the right people for the job.

Cedefop’s Grethe Haugoy raises another issue: “Uncertainty about regulations isn’t helping the situation – and regulation is a dominant factor driving both employers and private consumers to demand energy-efficient technology, products and services.”

The Cedefop team found that despite the role of policy and regulation in influencing demand for green skills, most Member States do not yet integrate national skill strategies with their environment policies. This hinders cooperation and coherence between environment and energy policies and skill and employment policies. The need for close cooperation between interested parties, for integration of related policies and for guidance and career counselling to make green jobs more attractive are the study's most important conclusions for policy-makers. 

The Green Skills Forum is an opportunity to gather the latest insights on (1) what firms, trade unions and other organisations are already doing to foster the potential of green growth through skills development activities; (2) how strategies for green skills are integrated with other areas of workforce development and (3) tools and directions for further research.

The Forum aims to draw on lessons from work conducted by the OECD, Cedefop, and other organisations on the implications of the green economy for skills development and training policies.

These insights will contribute to the OECD’s Green Growth Strategy studies, such as the LEED (Local Economic and Employment Development ) projects on Measuring the Potential of Green Growth and Improving the effectiveness of green local development initiatives, and  to Cedefop’s Green Skills activities, which contribute to the European Commission’s  initiative on New Skills for New Jobs. 

The Forum also provides insights for the Rio+20 process and the G20 pillar on the "Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth" and the G20 work on "Development".