The EU’s 55% emission reduction objective by 2030 and our ultimate 2050 climate neutrality goal will require deep changes in our economy and energy systems. From designing electric cars to operating huge solar farms that generate renewable electricity, new jobs and new skills will be needed to build this greener economy. Choosing a green career might be the most effective climate action you can take!
Whether you want to become a solar engineer, a climate researcher, or a zero-waste chef, you will need to develop green skills. But what exactly are those skills and how do you go about acquiring them? We spoke to three European Climate Pact Ambassadors who know all about green skills and careers.
“Young people need to know that these jobs can have as much of a good impact on the climate as protesting on the street.”
Opening up to the opportunities
Bryony Cecil is a young Climate Pact Ambassador based in Germany, and leads a team specialising in carbon-offsetting projects at the climate consultancy South Pole. “I’ve been into environmental activism since I was 8, but as I got older, I knew climate science wasn’t exactly the right path for me,” she says. “I did some research and found a master’s degree in sustainable development, with a focus on the Global South. That’s what really caught my interest. I think it’s really important to choose something that excites you.”
Bryony believes schools can make a key contribution to raising the profile of green opportunities and skills: “Schools could make more effort to integrate green jobs into job fairs and showcase the careers available, whether in policy, planning or even environmental law. There needs to be a continuous emphasis on these different types of jobs and what the education routes look like.”
But is that education available? According to Ulrike Rabmer-Koller, Climate Pact Ambassador and CEO of green tech and construction company Rabmer Group in Austria, the change should start with teachers, helping them develop better skills so they can, in turn, better train their students. “Across the green technology sector, the supply of skilled workers is not keeping up with demand. We need to speed up training and make young people aware of the opportunities,” she says.
Learning a green mindset early on
Fortunately, topics such as how to recycle, reduce energy use and travel without relying on cars are increasingly being introduced to young pupils across Europe, including via resources such as the Our planet, Our future youth portal and teachers hub. In Bulgaria, for example, over 250 schools take part in the Ecopack recycling initiative, which has so far saved 3,328 trees from being felled.
Climate change is taught in traditional subjects like geography, but there are also innovative courses, including on how climate change is monitored from space, which is taught in some Danish secondary schools. In 2020, Italy became the first country to incorporate climate change and sustainable development across its national school curriculum, meaning all students will learn about it.
New teaching methods are even bringing climate change into theatre and the arts. Spanish Climate Pact Ambassador, engineer and director of the Low Carbon Economy Foundation, José Segarra Murria, has been involved in several pan-European projects that connect art and creativity with climate change. One such project co-funded by the EU’s Erasmus+ programme develops comics and graphic novels as a tool for students to learn about climate change.
For José, integrating climate change into a range of different disciplines is a positive step towards filling the green skills gap: “Climate change awareness needs to be a cross-cutting value for everyone, especially young students who are the citizens of the future.”
“The opportunities are definitely there, you just have to find what interests you.”
Technical skills in high demand
If your talents lie in science, technology, engineering or maths (known as STEM subjects), the chances are your knowledge will be in high demand by the organisations developing sustainable technologies.
“We’re hiring a lot of young people with a basic level of training in technical occupations, such as electricians, plumbers, building engineers and people with digital skills,” says Ulrike from Austria. “We then teach them how to fix leaking water, gas and sewage pipes from inside the system to avoid destructive and carbon-intensive excavation techniques. They can also learn for example how to install equipment that extracts heat from sewage systems and converts it into renewable heating and cooling for buildings, as well as how to use the software that operates those systems.”
Since joining her parents’ traditional construction company 30 years ago, Ulrike has combined her business acumen and degree with a flair for innovative green solutions. Her firm now delivers a range of green engineering and heating solutions for large hotel chains, companies and households. Ulrike is always on the lookout for fresh talent, and she’s not alone: she estimates that Austria will need 100,000 skilled people by 2030 to install solar panels, fit heat pumps and renovate buildings, among other things.
As vice president of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKO) from 2015 to 2020, Ulrike supported moves to encourage girls to explore technical training. Now, she backs Fighters4Climate, an initiative that highlights 13 technical professions that are important to tackling climate change. “Young people need to know that these jobs can have as much of a good impact on the climate as protesting on the street. In a survey of 500 young people, 81% said they wanted to know more about green jobs – that proves the will is there and I think the European Climate Pact can help spread awareness,” Ulrike says.
It doesn’t have to be climate science
For those who aren’t technically minded, Bryony has this advice: “There are so many routes you can take, and every job has the potential to become green if it promotes environmentally friendly practices. The opportunities are definitely there, you just have to find what interests you.”
At further-education level, anyone wanting to study a topic relating to climate change now has an overwhelming range of courses to choose from. You can study sustainable fashion at Milano Fashion Institute, climate finance at the University of Frankfurt, or sustainable tourism at the Institute of Tourism and Economic Sustainable Development in Gran Canaria.
Although José did a master’s degree in environmental sciences and studied science and innovation management, he says that when he’s looking for new team members, a genuine desire to be part of the green transition is vital. “Of course, we need people with skills in environmental sciences, engineering and software engineering, but we’re also looking for people with strong environmental values. You really have to feel the commitment to doing something good for the planet,” he says.
José sees an important role for the Climate Pact here too: “As Ambassadors, it’s our mission to inform, inspire and raise awareness through our networks and communities. Green skills should be included in that. I think the Ambassadors network could be a great tool for reaching students, young people and organisations to promote real examples of green skills and sustainable jobs, and show jobseekers what’s out there.”
“Climate change awareness needs to be a cross-cutting value for everyone, especially young students who are the citizens of the future.”
Building on existing skills
Many workers across different occupations, sectors and regions will need to gain new skills in their current jobs to contribute to the green transition, while those who are looking at new roles in green industries will need upskilling and reskilling. For example, people working in traditional, carbon-intensive industries such as coal mining have technical and professional skills that are transferable to the renewable energy sector. To ensure none of them get left behind, the EU is supporting regions with a high dependence on carbon-intensive industries as part of its Just Transition Mechanism.
The EU’s Pact for Skills supports public and private organisations to commit to training and investing in upskilling and reskilling workers. There are also a variety of national and regional retraining programmes across Europe that aim to provide green skills, including via online learning. For example, Climate-KIC, which is co-funded by the EU, offers courses on a wide range of topics from food science to environmental protection.
Last but not least, skills for the green transition will play an important role in the 2023 European Year of Skills – an EU initiative that helps people get the right skills for quality jobs and helps companies, in particular small and medium enterprises, address skills shortages.
Opening doors to a brighter future
While it’s clear that more needs to be done to make people aware of the opportunities and provide the necessary training, anyone with an interest in sustainability will find that doors open for them with a little research and effort to gain the right skills.
No matter your age, when you know what’s right for you, why not follow Ulrike’s advice and be proactive: “My company holds open days for school students, and other green technology firms do it too, so it’s worth checking their websites and social media for these opportunities. Or get in touch with them directly and ask to spend a day discovering what they do,” she says. As Bryony puts it: “Don’t be afraid to jump into the unknown. Just take that leap. If that’s what you want to do and you really want to make a difference, then give it a go!”
Finally, remember that one of the Climate Pact’s key pledges is to speak up at work. Whatever job you do, you can make a difference by talking to colleagues about climate action or encouraging them to cycle to work, for example. You could even join forces to put pressure on your organisation to lessen its own impact on the planet!
- Publication date
- 28 April 2023
- Directorate-General for Climate Action