Green skills and jobs for sustainable futures

Green cities, Labour market insertion, Initial vocational education and training, Upskilling and Reskilling
Niklaus Waldvogel, Skills Development Advisor, Green Skills and Jobs Focal Point25.03.2024

Green skills have been on the agenda for at least a decade. They are regularly identified as the key skills of the 2020s for personal career development1, solving the climate crisis2, and creating more inclusive economic growth and decent work for all3. The world seems to agree that more green skills are needed. Hardly a week goes by without them featuring prominently in a new policy paper or a major conference.

Plenty is also being said and written about new green opportunities. The much-needed focus on limiting the impact of climate change is seen as an enabler for green innovation, changing the way governments, businesses and other relevant actors behave and entire (economic) sectors function. Think of the new technologies being developed to produce energy and to reduce emissions in transport, agriculture and finance, where whole new markets are emerging4. Skilled professionals are essential to managing these changes, which means there is a need for people to be trained and retrained to meet these demands.

Opinions seem to have been formed on the potential of green skills. But can these trends of greening the economy and education, often formulated from the perspective of more developed economies, be applied to the regions and countries where Swisscontact is active? How much more employable is someone with green skills in these contexts, which are usually characterised by high informality and low private-sector dynamism? As soon as one tries to answer these questions from a development perspective, the picture becomes less clear.

Green training does not automatically mean green work

There is a lack of evidence on what exactly green skills mean for the labour force in developing and emerging economies, and whether revising entire education and training systems to integrate the acquisition of green skills makes sense in the complex and challenging circumstances faced by people in the Global South. Unfortunately, the issue of local labour market demand for green skills is often assessed only superficially. The focus on green skills as the key to future employability seems too attractive to be questioned and as a result, learners run the risk of being trained for green sectors which may ultimately offer only limited green job opportunities.

A high degree of informality in labour markets in many countries of the Global South often makes it difficult to identify clear job profiles that can be “greened.” In addition, a lack of constructive communication between training providers and the labour market frequently means that green training is seen as only a minor addition to existing curricula, rather than a central building block for a new way of doing business. We must also recognise and respect the fact that for disadvantaged people, acquiring green skills may not be the most pressing issue. It can be difficult for them to see the direct benefits of green skills training, even though they are disproportionately affected by climate change5.

A strategy that aligns our core strengths with the greatest challenge of our time

Despite this critical view, Swisscontact firmly believes in the transformative power of green practices and the resulting need for greener education. In our projects, we see first-hand how climate change threatens people’s livelihoods and how important it is for them to acquire the right skills to build resilience. We see how new green business models are emerging in many countries, often providing more income and better jobs. The question for our organisation is therefore not whether green skills should play a role or not, but rather how they can better be promoted.

To support this ambition, we have developed a new Climate Change Strategy and invested in thematic expertise. This strategy allows us to link our climate goals with our other key focus areas, particularly skills development. We call the resulting framework ‘Green Skills & Jobs’.

To maximise the impact of green skills, we need to invest in detailed and - above all - honest analysis of local circumstances. It takes foresight to recognise when such skills make sense and when they do not. Our working philosophy, the Inclusive Systems Approach, provides us with the necessary critical mindset and tools needed for such in-depth analysis of local circumstances.

We recognise that green skills alone can have little impact if there are no green jobs within which to use these skills. To address this, we are moving beyond green skills alone and working to create green jobs. This is where our experience in inclusive economic development comes in, allowing us to build a more effective portfolio of interventions.

Finally, more research is needed on the long-term impact of green skills on people’s lives. There are still many unanswered questions when it comes to the expected increase in employability. As a thematic thought leader, Swisscontact is positioning itself prominently in this area, working with our research partners to find answers to these very questions.

The meaningful and sustainable promotion of Green Skills & Jobs is one of Swisscontact’s strategic priorities in skills development. As an adaptive organisation, we are learning every day to better understand the concept and how to use it to achieve our goal of a better quality of life for all.

The following examples illuminate Swisscontact’s work in the area of Green Skills and Jobs in three countries:

Green cities
Circular economy is fostering positive change for recycling organisations and their workers
According to the UN, one of the four main problems standing in the way of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the growing amount of waste. A Word Bank study has shown that waste management currently accounts for about 1.6 billion tons of climate-damaging greenhouse gases. Without improvement measures, these numbers are expected to increase even further. But ‘recicladores’ all around Colombia are trying to make a difference. Swisscontact works with public and private partners to improve the working conditions of these informal waste pickers. 
Green cities
How the tourism and hospitality industry are challenging plastic waste in Laos
In Laos, an ecological movement is growing rapidly. The Plastic Free Laos label – an initiative aiming to reduce plastic waste in the country – is making real strides toward an environmentally sustainable future. Swisscontact supports the label through its Waste to Value Project.
Entrepreneurial ecosystems, Sustainable agriculture
Advancing Green Jobs and Skills for Malian Youth
In the face of escalating environmental challenges and climate change, transitioning to a sustainable economy has become imperative. Through the Support Fund for Youth Business Creation (FACEJ), Swisscontact has introduced Guichet 4, a new financing mechanism supporting green projects in Mali. This initiative aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly combating climate change (SDG 13) and promoting sustainable economic growth (SDG 8).