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Why we need to be upskillling the current workforce for the green economy

Fiona Place, Group Head of Sustainability, Hays


The journey to Net Zero will require sustained action to drive green growth. For organisations to achieve this, their workforce will need the right tools.

The transition to a green economy – that focuses on social equity and reducing damage to the environment – has been accelerating in recent years stimulated by the drive to reach Net Zero by 2050. Innovation and technology offer greater opportunities to lay the groundwork for this new economy and in turn to stimulate a wave of new jobs.

With this target in mind, it’s interesting to note that 80% of the workforce in 2030 are already in employment. Given that the current workforce are instrumental in reaching these sustainability goals, we must be equipped with the right tools. However, in a recent Hays poll on LinkedIn, just 40% of respondents were able to confirm that their organisation was upskilling or recruiting in preparation for the green transition.

In this blog, I’ll be looking at the multiple benefits of upskilling workers for the green economy, as well as the key things to consider.

Why are workers developing their green skills?

The Learning Mindset Report 2022 by Hays and Go1 unearthed that 83% of workers want to learn new skills. Meanwhile, according to this paper from Deloitte, the primary concern for young people after the cost of living is the climate crisis.

Additionally, The International Labour Organisation has forecasted that up to 24 million jobs could be created by 2030 as a result of the green economy. Since there will be a green skills gap, it makes sense that those affected are offered the opportunity to upskill.

A colleague of mine, Jennifer Henry, has recently been appointed to lead on sustainability for Hays France after actively upskilling to develop her knowledge and understanding of sustainability. She explains: “I decided to upskill when I started to be interested by the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) subjects – mostly on environmental matters. At first, it was for my personal knowledge to understand the concepts of global warming and climate change. At the same time, subjects such as well-being at work and employee engagement were very important for me.”

It’s important, though, to think about how we define these jobs. As new roles are created, we shouldn’t think of these as “green” jobs, while existing ones remain unaffected. In the green economy, we will all need skills and knowledge related to sustainability. As such, upskilling and training is necessary for everyone.

Why should my organisation upskill its employees?

Considering this, upskilling isn’t about transferring to a completely new sector. Instead, organisations can take advantage of the knowledge and experience that their workforce already has, and simply enhance their skills to benefit both employee and employer.

Jennifer continues: “As of today, if an organisation neglects one side of CSR, it will lose appeal for consumers, clients, investors and candidates – it’s not sustainable anymore! We’re noticing that a lot of organisations are changing their communication and, little by little, their products.

“On a professional level, if the employees are aware of these concepts, they will be able to think and implement efficient actions inside their organisation.”

One of the key aspects Jennifer raises is attracting talent, as well as retaining it. According to the Deloitte paper referenced above, 48% of Gen Z and 43% of Millennials claim that they are putting pressure on their employers to take action on climate change. However, just 18% and 16% respectively strongly agree that their organisations are taking it seriously. My colleague Sandra Henke has already explored the importance of an Employee Value Proposition, and explained that learning resources and a green commitment appeals to much of the current workforce.

Next steps: Preparing your workforce for the green economy

I’ve already written about harnessing the power and passion of your people in a separate article. However, developing your workforce’s skills will only go so far if your organisation isn’t committed itself. Even if you are starting out on your Net Zero journey, make sure that you set goals and stick to them. No greenwashing!

Having an authentic commitment will also help in attracting top talent, but it’s important to find the right people. Embed “green thinking” into your recruitment strategy by considering green skills and a strong learning mindset when hiring. You can’t reasonably expect your applicants to already possess skills, but a capacity to learn is important.

As in any workforce, diversity is important. In this instance, this applies to the roles themselves too. During a recent panel at Tomorrow’s Net Zero Conference (chaired by Paul Gosling Hays’ UK National Director for Sustainability), Michelle Sacks explained: “We often talk about highly-skilled jobs and highly-paid jobs in new sectors but, equally, there are opportunities throughout. It’s not disenfranchising those who may see themselves in lower-skilled jobs and think ‘That’s not for me!’… It’s really important that we’re able to demonstrate a whole range of opportunities.” The reality is that the transition to a green economy has already begun, and organisations that don’t change their approach will be left behind. Training employees with green skills, as well as hiring candidates with the capacity to learn, is now a must. Not only will it help you to attract and retain talent that is passionate about sustainability, but it will benefit your business too.

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Fiona has over 14 years experience advising listed companies and private equity on ESG and sustainability. Topics of interest span net zero, responsible sourcing and human rights. Prior to joining Hays, Fiona worked at Elevate Global and before that Anthesis where she was responsible for growing a suite of sustainability due diligence services and working with companies across the goods and service sectors to deliver on their sustainability ambitions. She also has experience of working on behalf of NGOs on corporate social responsibility programs in Africa and Asia


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