Critical need for reskilling and educating workers to deliver net-zero transition

‘A logistical and training challenge but an enormous opportunity to reskill the workforce and create green jobs’

Ilaria Catastini


Ilaria Catastini, general manager of Fondazione MAIRE and head of sustainability and corporate advocacy, MAIRE Group

COP28 started mired in controversy and ended with a ground-breaking agreement to gradually phase out fossil fuels and move the world into a new era of decarbonisation. 

A month on from the close of this critical UNFCCC summit, the question remains – how are we going to make the necessary transition?

The transition is not going to be easy, and requires decarbonising in every sector, industry and country. This will demand that both private and public sectors collaborate and work throughout their own operations and supply chains. They will need to identify and invest in decarbonised technology and infrastructure, use raw materials and energy differently, and ensure they have the people and skills necessary to develop solutions, scale them, measure and manage impact effectively in order to drive behaviours and outcomes.

See also: – Emerging green skills gap in financial services ‘jeopardises net-zero goals’

Achieving that isn’t something that just needs new products, services and infrastructure, it also needs new skills and the retraining of all workers to use technology and infrastructure in a way that delivers the net-zero transition.

This presents a huge logistical and training challenge but also an enormous opportunity to reskill the workforce and create green jobs. The IEA’s World Energy Employment Report 2022 predicted that 14 million new jobs could be created through the transition to net zero as well as 30 million workers expected to need new training and skills.

Yet despite this huge shift in employment and skills, research that the MAIRE Foundation launched at COP28 found that this revolution in training and education has barely started to gain momentum with 75% of those questioned saying they need training and two-fifths saying companies should prioritise the innovation of sustainable products and services.

See also: – Hiring slows for engagement roles at asset managers

Without widescale net-zero education we risk creating an increasingly electrified world but without the human skills to ensure we gain the essential carbon reduction and resource efficiency needed by 2050.

That process of investment, reskilling and collaboration will also present significant economic opportunity, particularly for those countries that are early movers and understand the need to develop a workforce for a decarbonised world.

Our study suggests G7 countries have not embraced the need for reskilling and education as much as emerging economies and that if this disconnect plays out into the wider economy it could see developing countries (that invest in upskilling their workforce) capitalise on the energy transition more effectively than established economic powers.

The study highlights the importance of education and training is particularly recognised in Middle Eastern countries (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey), Algeria, and Chile, where a substantial portion of individuals stress its importance and urgency. However, there’s a concern that educational progress is still too slow.

The required skills for workers varies across countries, but it’s evident that both technical and soft skills are crucial. The emphasis on creativity (in the UK, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, India and the UAE), problem-solving (in Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, China, the USA, and Chile), critical thinking (in the UK), and analytical skills signals the need for new professionals with a different mindset. 

At the same time, technical knowledge on environmental impact analysis (in the UK, the UAE, and the USA), alternative materials (in China), renewable energy sources (in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Algeria), and circular economy principles (in India), are seen as pivotal. This reflects these countries’ awareness of the educational gaps that need to be addressed.

Embracing these opportunities and challenges requires existing technology to be used differently as well as developing new solutions that bring a wider technical response to climate change. All this needs us to focus equally on how people use technology, products and infrastructures as well as how we design and engineer new generations of low-carbon technology, products and services.

Without a revolution in the way we train and equip millions of people needed to deliver net zero, we will fall short in building the infrastructure, products and services needed for mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

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