Cop28: more 'upskilled' workers required to power green transition

A 'just transition' for workers from traditional power sectors to green industries must accompany the energy transition, experts say

The transition to renewable energy potentially gives rise to more job opportunities, but there is a need to re-train and upskill people, according to Olga Strietska-Ilina, ILO's area lead on skills strategy for future labour markets. AFP
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A global shift to clean energy will require a huge workforce with new skills, making investments in training and human capital essential to ensure a "just transition" where no workers are left behind.

About 25 million jobs are expected to be created from the energy transition by 2030, but seven million jobs will be lost, experts told The National on the sidelines of Cop28 in Dubai.

"The transition to renewable energy potentially gives rise to more job opportunities, but we need to re-train and upskill people and this doesn't happen automatically," said Olga Strietska-Ilina, the International Labour Organisation's area lead on skills strategy for future labour markets.

At the climate summit, more than 100 countries have signed the Global Renewables And Energy Efficiency Pledge. The countries will commit to work together to triple the world’s current renewable energy generation capacity to at least 11,000 gigawatts by 2030.

Governments and industries should collaborate to develop curriculums and technical and vocational training programmes for workers to help transform industries, Ms Strietska-Ilina said.

Cop28 is praised for its proactive climate change efforts

Cop28 is praised for its proactive climate change efforts

Also crucial are social protection measures such as minimum wages and inclusive policies that ensure women are not left behind in the energy transition.

"You need efficient labour market institutions so that the person can go and receive career guidance on where to re-train, for what jobs to retrain and that the person is actually covered by social protection," she said.

"If you lose your job today and want to re-train for another job, you need to make sure that you have some minimum income. This is why we speak about a just transition."

A just transition for workers would feature a comprehensive policy package, she said. That includes skills development, pro-employment macroeconomic policies, occupational and safety regulations, workplace rights and industrial policies such as renewable energy implementation.

"You need, of course, social dialogue because you need to understand what the stakes are for businesses, trade unions and workers and how to make sure that no one is left behind in this transition," she said.

Gender imbalance

ILO figures suggest that the greatest impact of the transition will be on male-dominated, medium-skill occupations and that current occupational gender gaps are likely to persist.

Women will get only a fraction of the jobs created, unless adequate measures are taken to train them in relevant skills, so that they can benefit from new jobs.

The ILO advocates for gender equality to be at the core of countries’ efforts in developing forward-looking and inclusive skills strategies for the energy transition.

"More than half of the green jobs opportunities are taken by men and in the future, most of the demand will be for middle-skill level jobs and the ratio for men and women is uncomparable," Ms Strietska-Ilina said.

The ratio of renewable energy jobs for men to women is 19 to 6, she said.

Enacting policies aimed at re-skilling employees for the renewable energy sector would depend on labour circumstances at a country level, a Cop28 delegate from the International Organisation of Employers told The National.

"People often like to talk about the private sector, but there are thousands and millions of companies out there, from big to small to micro," said Robert Marinkovic.

"Some countries are doing more than others. Some companies have more capacity and resources to do more than others. But what we're seeing is definitely not enough," he said.

The Geneva-based organisation is the largest private sector network in the world and represents the interests of employers in social and labour matters at an international level.

Mr Marinkovic said that nationally determined contributions (NDCs), representing a country's climate mitigation targets, often leave out references to green skills and technical education.

"When it comes to green skills, we're not seeing enough dedicated frameworks and analysis of the needs of skills," he said.

“We often hear worries about skill shortages and lack of appropriate competencies to enable the transition.”

Meanwhile, developing economies are struggling with the financial resources required to re-skill their workforce.

For Barbados, an island country in the south-east of the Caribbean Sea, the lack of adequate resources is a real problem.

"You're looking at skills, you're looking at occupational standards training...but you still need to have the resources to implement and train persons," said Sheena Mayers-Granville , executive director at the Barbados Employers Confederation.

"For small island developing states such as mine, our stories seem to get very similar," said Ms Mayers-Granville.

Youth and green jobs

Mining jobs, especially those related to coal, will face significant challenges during the energy transition.

Abruptly closing coal mines will leave millions of direct and indirect jobs at stake, with a major impact on the national economies, Ms Strietska-Ilina said.

While coal mining workers cannot be trained overnight, they may be re-skilled for jobs in the extraction of critical minerals used for solar panels and lithium batteries, she said.

The transition to green jobs will also attract more young people who are interested in climate change mitigation efforts and environmentally-conscious companies, she added.

More than half of Gen Zs (55 per cent) and millennials (54 per cent) say they research a company’s environmental impact and policies before accepting a job from them, according to Deloitte.

Updated: December 10, 2023, 8:07 AM