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How Collaboration Can Develop Green Skills for a Sustainable Future

The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly visible with each passing year. Rapidly melting ice caps, frequent occurrences of natural disasters, and rising sea levels are just some of the examples being reported.

The urgent need to transition to a sustainable economy is therefore more critical than ever. But that can only be built if the global workforce is adequately equipped with the necessary green skills.

Enabling employees to acquire the skills and knowledge needed for this transformation requires collaboration across the private and public sectors, as well as among individuals. In recent years, Deloitte, in collaboration with the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), has conducted extensive research on this topic.

Now, as we approach COP28 in the Middle East, we’ve combined to host a roundtable event to discuss the pressing need for green skills development and explore the progress that’s being made.

Execs attending spoke enthusiastically about the opportunity that a net zero economy presents, while raising concern about progress on developing the skills required to drive the transition which they observed was not only too slow – but which is already showing signs of hampering sustainability efforts.

There is much to explore, but in this, the first of a series of blogs delving into the detail of those discussions, we’ve set out five key points made by the leaders participating:

1. Bridging the gap Between talk and walk

While people may think that we are making progress in developing green skills for climate and net-zero targets, the gap between talk and action remains significant. Even though some mature organisations have implemented bottom-up and top-down initiatives, it appears that the majority have not truly considered embedding green skills throughout the organisation.

Consensus was that there remains a considerable gap between what people say they are doing and the reality. To bridge the gap between ambition and action, collaboration is necessary across multiple sectors. Governments and businesses must invest in developing relevant green skills to meet growing demand for the green economy. The current education system must also prioritise sustainability education to prepare the next generation for a changing world. By working together, we can ensure that we develop the necessary skills and knowledge to build a brighter, more sustainable future.

2. Taking a broader view of green skills for a holistic transformation

Developing green skills is fundamental to a sustainable future, but it requires a broad and holistic approach that includes nature, biodiversity, waste, and pollution as part of green strategies. Neglecting the broader view can lead to unintended consequences and increased costs. Integrated green skills development is essential to address environmental challenges while promoting a sustainable economy.

Governments and businesses must invest in a broad set of skills and work collaboratively to build a more sustainable future.

3. Challenges in accessing apprenticeships and vocational courses

Developing green skills is essential for building a sustainable future, and increasingly, there are more specific green apprenticeships and vocational courses that people can undertake.

However, there remain challenges to accessing and utilising these structures to bring diverse and green talent into businesses. This is particularly the case for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which lack the resources and capacity to invest in training programs and formalised initiatives, putting them at risk of being left behind in the green skills transition. This means that, despite their potential to contribute to the sustainable economy, SMEs lag behind their larger counterparts that have established more formalised green skills development programs.

It is vital to take a concerted effort to ensure that green skills development initiatives are inclusive and accessible for all. This means investing in initiatives that support the development of inclusive green skills programs. By taking a more comprehensive approach to green skills development, we can ensure that everyone has equal access to the opportunities presented by the transition to a sustainable economy.

4. Addressing the green talent war

As companies and governments look to meet sustainability goals and invest in green infrastructure, the demand for sustainability professionals is rapidly growing. However, participants in our round table event feel salary competitiveness is a significant obstacle, particularly in sectors like waste and construction that struggle to retain newly invested talent.

In the current market, salaries for sustainability professionals are not keeping pace with the growing demand for their skills. This has led to newly trained professionals moving quickly from sectors that can't afford to keep them to other fields that can. This risks creating skills shortages in critical sectors, which ultimately undermines the efforts of both private and public organisations to build a more sustainable future.

It’s essential to ensure that salaries for sustainability professionals remain competitive and align with the growing demand for green skills. Organisations must invest in green skills development to build a strong pipeline of talented sustainability professionals and have a plan in place to retain them.

5. Developing Career Pathways for Green Talent

As more junior green talent joins, or is cultivated in, organisations, it is crucial to develop career pathways that move beyond entry-level roles. Green skills are becoming increasingly important in the new economic landscape, and as organisations invest in sustainability, there is a growing demand for more experienced professionals to lead these initiatives.

It's essential to provide green professionals with the opportunity to grow and advance in their career. Without clear career progression opportunities, sustainability professionals may leave organisations, including those that invested in their development, to seek better career prospects elsewhere. This means that, although these individuals possess valuable green skills, their talent and expertise go untapped as they move to new roles that offer career progression from a specialist remit to roles that operate more broadly within the business.

Some organisations have started to consider developing these career pathways, but this needs to be adopted more broadly across all sectors of industry.

Executives taking part in the discussions observed that the trends towards developing green skills are not dissimilar across geographies. However, there is a varied range of practices related to the integration of sustainability as an inherent part of every job.

To build a sustainable future, organisations must recognise the importance of developing green skills and invest in initiatives that support the development of those skills. They must also take a comprehensive and integrated approach that considers sustainability education, training, and development as part of their operations from entry-level to executive leadership roles.

By working together and sharing best practices, we can create a thriving ecosystem of green skills development that boosts the transition to a sustainable economy.