A recent study set out to identify the future skill requirements of the ‘green economy’ in Ireland and to propose a range of measures to ensure that the future skills base will drive business and employment growth*.
While there is no exact boundary around what constitutes ‘the green economy’, a number of key sectors have been identified as having the most business and employment growth potential. These are environmental consultancy and services, renewable energies, efficient energy use and management, water and waste management treatment, waste management recovery and recycling, green ICT applications and software.
An estimated 18 750 people are currently employed within the green economy. The Expert Group has developed projections for employment growth in the sector to 2015 based on strong international and domestic drivers of growth. These drivers include climate change commitments and environmental regulations and directives.
It is a sector with employment growth potential at all occupational and skills levels - including operatives, skilled workers, sales and office staff, technicians, managers, engineers, scientists, professionals. If substantive progress is made in addressing technical, regulatory and planning challenges to the development of the sector, the report says that around 14 500 job opportunities could arise over the next five years.
Sixty percent of the companies surveyed for the report stated that they had a current skills gap. These arise from the need to develop more high-value, innovative products and services, utilising new and emerging technologies, and ongoing productivity improvements in work organisation to achieve flexible and adaptable organisations. These developments are being driven by customer demand in both export and domestic markets.
Key skills requirements include the development of core business, engineering and ICT skills with additional expertise acquired through ‘add-on’ specialism modules.
There are a range of generic competences important across occupations. These include entrepreneurship, math proficiency, commercial awareness, foreign languages, finance, marketing, creativity and innovation, problem-solving and communication skills.
The report recommends that the specialisms referred to above could be undertaken as part of undergraduate or postgraduate courses or, in the case of further education, the provision of upskilling in the specialisms required. It notes that a substantial number of programmes are underway around ‘green skills’ education and training provision – some ninety one higher education course were identified. There is scope for improving the alignment of current provision towards meeting the skills needs of enterprise while optimising the use of existing funding and expertise. Good practice in other countries featuring collaborative and inter-disciplinary working should be adopted. Well-structured internship and placement programmes would also benefit both student and employer.
Other recommendations in the report relate to developing technicians and operatives skills in specific fields and to communicating career opportunities on offer generally within the sector.
*Future skills needs of enterprise within the green economy in Ireland / Expert Group on Future Skills Needs. Dublin: Forfás, 2010.