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Future of Education Q2 2024

A new geography of green skills

iStock / Getty Images Plus / milanmarkovic78

Lamia Kamal-Chaoui

OECD Director of Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities, OECD

Investments in clean energy have surged by 40% since 2020. One in five cars sold in 2023 were electric, compared to one in twenty-five in 2020. The technology to achieve net zero exists. However, do we have the skills in the right places?

The OECD report ‘Job Creation and Local Economic Development 2023: Bridging the Great Green Divide,’ reveals that from 2011–21, the proportion of workers in green-skilled jobs, such as environmental risk assessments and retrofitting, increased from 16% to 18%.

Green skills benefits and lagging adaptation

Green jobs often pay up to 20% more than other jobs. However, labour markets are slow to adapt, with green job skill shortages being 20–50% higher than for non-green jobs across OECD countries. A notable example is the heat pump engineering sector. The UK has only 3,000 trained heat pump engineers, but an additional 24,000 will be needed within six years.

The gap between regions with the highest and lowest shares of green-skilled jobs averages seven percentage points. For instance, green-skill job shares in Paris and Greater London are about 30%, compared to less than 18% in Normandy and 20% in Northern Ireland.

Developing green skills at school

Developing skills for a sustainable economy must begin in schools, emphasising STEM education. Breaking gender norms is essential to increase girls’ participation in STEM. Currently, women represent less than a third of the green job workforce.

Engineering roles are among the most common green jobs in the OECD, but transversal skills like critical thinking and problem-solving are also crucial.

Labour markets are slow to adapt, with green
job skill shortages being 20–50% higher
than for non-green jobs.

Retraining and acquiring green skills

Adult education systems must incentivise workers, particularly in polluting sectors, to retrain. We need a culture of lifelong learning that rewards workers and employers for acquiring new green skills. Initiatives like in Belgium aim to reskill workers in polluting industries, including construction.

Leveraging local knowledge

Education and adult skills must be tailored to local labour market needs, emphasising specialised manufacturing and engineering or green finance initiatives as needed. Engaging local knowledge and businesses can ensure we have the right skills in the right places, preventing bottlenecks from hindering climate goals.

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