According to a new report from the OECD (Bridging the Green Divide) the green transition will drive a massive shift in the demand for skills, jobs, or specific goods more rapidly than the market can adjust and it could (without appropriate strategies and supports) deepen social divides within regions.
New skills will be needed throughout the economy, whether it is retraining construction workers on environmentally friendly materials and techniques, or reskilling automotive workers for electric vehicle production. The jobs and skills needed will differ geographically—some local labour markets will have people with skills that can be easily redeployed and others not.
The greening of the labour market will have several effects on people, places, and firms. New types of jobs will emerge, creating opportunities in occupations that may not yet exist. There will be the loss of some existing jobs, especially in highly polluting activities such as coal and gas extraction. The green transition will lead to a shift in the skills required for many other jobs throughout the economy.
Addressing these challenges requires a rethinking and updating of education curricula and training courses to enable workers to attain the skills demanded by the changing labour market. But because the geography of these transitions will also differ, a place-based strategy will be vital, with local economic development and business support programmes complementing national green transition policies, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises.
The risks and opportunities for workers are uneven across different places within the same country. Regions relying on high-emission sectors are more likely to see jobs disappear due to green policies. Likewise, economic opportunities and “green” job creation will not materialise equally everywhere.
The green transition has a strong gender dimension and education dimension in the labour market. Women tend to be under-represented in green-task jobs, accounting for only 28% of them, requiring policy efforts to raise female participation in the green transition. On the other hand, men will be the most affected by the disappearance of polluting jobs.
The majority of workers in green-task jobs are currently high-skilled and have completed tertiary education. In contrast, polluting jobs, at risk of disappearing, are held by individuals with lower educational attainment and in medium-skilled occupations. So far, high-skilled and educated workers have predominantly captured the employment opportunities brought about by the green transition. In contrast, people with lower educational attainment and in medium-skilled occupations are at higher risk of displacement due to the green transition.
With both the challenges and opportunities of the green transition being place-specific, local actions or national initiatives tailored to local realities are needed. Additionally, local and regional governments cover the spaces where local development needs to be joined up with employment and skills policies. Skills development and retraining are vital to ensuring that workers have the right skills to prosper in a changing world of work and are a prerequisite for making the green transition a just transition.