Reskilling for the Green Transition
Feature by Simone Maienfisch
Our climate is changing, and 1.47 billion jobs globally depend on a stable climate.
Let’s turn the spotlight to discover how this crisis can create new opportunities for companies and individuals. Here, Gitte Winther Bruhn, global head of Social Responsibility Solutions at SAP, Alexandra van der Ploeg, global head of Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP, and Robert Richardson, HR tech strategy advisor, discuss the importance of reskilling for the green transition. This transition will help us protect our planet, our environment, and the “safe space for humanity” – our society, our friends, and our families – for the next generations to come.
Q: When we hear about the consequences of climate change, the social implications still don’t seem to surface in conversations as much – and certainly not as an opportunity. Can you offer some insight into what’s below the surface and why there is an important opportunity we should push above the horizon?
Winther Bruhn: When discussing climate change, we mainly address carbon emissions, not the impact on humans. We have an opportunity to address human inequality alongside climate actions through an inclusive green economy. Human talent will be crucial for the transition, as a greener economy requires new, green skills – both for emerging jobs and for existing jobs that are evolving. The green and critical transition will be impossible without a suitably trained workforce. Recent reports forecast that by 2030 the global human talent shortage will be more than 85 million people, or roughly the same as the entire population of Germany. And 85% of these jobs have not even been invented yet. Demand for talent is outpacing supply and will impact society and businesses. This is a challenge, but it provides us with an unprecedented possibility of job creation.
For example, making a carbon neutrality commitment requires significant changes to business operations. Companies must measure emissions, create action plans, execute change, measure performance, report results, and iterate. We need to reimagine training and reskilling for the global workforce. To understand how green skills are applied in jobs, pinpoint where gaps arise and what actions we can take to bridge them. An inclusive green transition could create millions of jobs in the next decade but requires significant investments in reskilling.
Green skills are the building blocks of the green transition to unlock the human capital that will power it – in a just way that leaves no one behind. For example, the transition to a green economy remains the best hope for lifting hundreds of millions of Africans out of extreme poverty. It would create new jobs and bring more investment to Africa in the long term for the continent’s sustainable development. This is crucial for Africa with approximately 70% of the population below the age of 30 and new entrants joining the workforce every year. UNEP estimates that expanding solar and wind capacity in Senegal will create up to 30,000 additional jobs by 2035.
We see three key players in this transition: government, employers, and individuals. What are the biggest challenges and tasks for employers in this transition?
Richardson: It’s great to see the thousands of companies making carbon neutrality commitments. Most companies don’t yet have the requisite knowledge and skills to achieve their commitments though. Achieving sustainability goals requires expertise, such as specialized data analysis focused on emissions and energy use, specialized hardware expertise focused on installing energy-monitoring modules, communicating and marketing with an understanding of how sustainability messaging is perceived in specific markets, and so on.
Three important focus areas for companies are:
- Good job design: Jobs should be designed with the right requirements in mind. Some roles will require deep sustainability specialization, but most will simply require some sustainable competencies to ensure the whole company is rowing in the same direction. Data scientists don’t necessarily need a sustainability degree. Product sourcing specialists don’t need five years of experience in a social responsibility department to purchase less carbon-intensive products and services. Good job design can reflect these requirements to encourage upskilling, attract talent, and allow for the assessment of candidate fit.
- Attracting talent: Attracting talent goes beyond publishing jobs. Candidates regularly review a company’s sustainability commitments when considering where to work. CHROs and talent acquisition leaders who ensure their recruiting brand brings sustainability messaging front and center will disproportionately win over these candidates. People want more than a check; they want to make a difference. But candidates are skeptical of greenwashing. So, prove it by engaging in good job design and touting sustainable commitments and achievements.
- Developing talent: Just as companies can conduct a job design audit of skills required to achieve sustainability goals, they can also audit their people skills. Knowing the skills you require – job design – and the skills you have – people skills – elucidates the gap an organization needs to fill to accomplish its objectives. Candidly, this can be daunting without sophisticated software and machine learning capabilities required to streamline the process. But it’s worth it. Knowing your skills gap is key to delivering effective, personalized upskilling and reskilling programs. Individualized learning, goals management, and performance management drive employee engagement, retention, and achievement of sustainability objectives.
Currently, green job growth is outpacing the labor market’s ability to keep up. Organizations focused on thoughtful job design, recruiting marketing, and personalized, data-driven talent development will have the best chance of achieving their sustainability goals.
Now that we have talked about the employers’ opportunities and duties in their own company and operations, what is the role of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in this?
van der Ploeg: In most companies, corporate social responsibility teams are responsible for overseeing and implementing a company’s social and environmental initiatives and, therefore, play an important role in supporting the green transition and addressing the skills gap and shortage challenge. The CSR strategy should acknowledge the interconnections of societal, environmental, and business challenges alike. So, CSR teams can set the stage for their own company and partner with others to reach joint sustainability goals. SAP has already successfully done this by integrating social responsibility into its sustainability framework.
A company will not only be impacted by the talent shortage in its operations but also in its partner network. It’s relevant for all stakeholders in the economy and it’s evident that the talent crunch is driven by a shortage of skills, not people. Plenty of people are willing to learn. That’s why, in their own interest, corporations should bring all of their assets to support the provision of quality education. CSR teams and their networks have the expertise to run such strategic programs. Last year, for example, SAP extended its partnership with UNICEF through Generation Unlimited, focusing on employability. This year, SAP and Generation Unlimited will pilot a program to support ‘learning to earning’ pathways for underserved young people in the digital and green economy. They’ll learn the hard and soft skills needed to become employable.
The consequences of climate change and other global developments such as the COVID-19 pandemic, often affect the world’s poorest. Any detrimental impact on economic or ecological systems will damage the social systems and disproportionately affect generally marginalized communities. That’s why our pilot focuses on marginalized youth in Nigeria, the Philippines, Kenya, and South Africa – with the goal of reaching more than 500,000 young people in the first year. They will get foundational knowledge and SAP skills to open a pathway to a successful career in the SAP ecosystem, along with on-the-job experience, coaching, and mentorship to help them launch their careers. This truly will be a win for the program, as SAP will see skilled young people in the ecosystem helping our partners and customers in their digital transformations and on their path to achieving their sustainability goals while providing the young talents better possibilities to have a career, earn a living wage, and live a decent life.
What responsibilities and opportunities do you see for governments in this transformation?
Winther Bruhn: The transition is a unique opportunity to mature functional labor markets with sophisticated, educational, and inclusive social protection systems and a future-proof workforce. Today, many commitments to international agreements are made without reference to the implications on labor markets and skills and training needs. Governments have an opportunity to link employment to action to address climate change and provide a significant driver for green job creation. To succeed, good coordination of policies and actions across government ministries and the private sector, including employers and workers, is needed to prevent and reduce skills mismatches.
I want to briefly mention one last key player, ourselves. Our actions do matter, as they collectively can lead to political change. We all need to embrace the change and the opportunities that come with the transition to a greener economy. We need to make choices on home heating systems, how cars should run, and reflect on our diet to avoid high-emission foods. We need to be proactive, take ownership of our own skill set, and embrace career flexibility. We need to internalize a mindset of lifelong learning.
To conclude, it is essential for all stakeholders, including governments, businesses, and workers, to collaborate on a new social contract and ensure we move forward together – toward a future that works for everyone.