Who Pays to Transition People to Green Jobs?

Many moons ago when I lived in New Zealand’s South Island, I remember being sat in a committee meeting for the local town hall which was in need of renovations. During the discussion about how to raise money, all the usual suggestions were made (which in New Zealand basically means two words: sausage sizzle). The chair of the meeting, who was also a regional councilor, made a powerful point that stuck with me for years. He said that we shouldn’t be doing anything that involved raising money from within the community: instead, we should be bringing money into the community. What does this have to do with transitioning people into green jobs?

If you’ve read LinkedIn’s The Global Green Skills Report, you’ll know that the green economy is getting bigger, but that the number of people with green skills is not keeping up, leaving us with a green skills gap, and this is a problem for the whole economy. At the same time, I know from my Ecotopian Careers conversations that there are a large number of people who would love to transition to the green economy, but aren’t finding it as easy as they should (even in the simplest of industry switches, where you use the same skills).

At the moment, the cost of transitioning people into the green economy is mostly being met by two groups: green jobseekers who pay for new knowledge and qualifications, and green employers who pay for training (either on-the-job or in partnership with training organizations). It’s a bit like the community paying for its own town hall renovations.

This is quite different from other parts of the green economy. For example, if you are a renewable energy provider, you can aspire to selling your product across the whole energy marketplace, not just people who were “into climate.” If you’ve developed an app that functions as a broker between individuals and carbon credit providers, you can aspire to getting funding from any number of investors who are interested in a return, not just the people who want to use the app.

In both cases, these green products and services socialize their costs beyond the immediate stakeholders. We need to do something similar to empower transitioning people into green jobs: we need to distribute the costs beyond the green jobseekers and green employers (and probably also to make the whole economy understand that it is an “immediate stakeholder” in these green career transitions).

It is at this point that people often look to government and philanthropic organizations as sources of funding. That’s certainly a good starting point, but there are problems. Chiefly, accessing these funds often involves elaborate and glacially slow processes where you have to bend over backwards to fit the ideological and cultural whims of the funder. Furthermore, this type of funding is unlikely to scale to the levels required.

There is also an inclination to hope that other businesses and organizations in the employment domain—such as job boards and universities—will absorb the process, but there is rarely sufficient business alignment. For example, job boards are in the business of connecting people with already appropriate skills to listed jobs, and universities are largely in the business of starting people off on their careers; neither are optimized for career transitions.

So what we really need is a different business model that pays for green career transitions, that is both flexible enough to work across many different circumstances, agile enough to work on a timeline that suits individuals, and which also has the ability to scale.

One possible way of achieving this is to distribute the costs across ALL businesses. This could be achieved by reimagining how businesses demonstrate their ESG commitments. As well as the usual emissions reporting and other forms of corporate governance, ESG activities could also include green skills training within the business that resulted in commonly-recognized green continuing professional development points.

The first benefit of this method would be to follow the Project Drawdown mantra of “every job is a climate job,” which may result in there being no need for people to transition to a green job, because they would have made their current job green. The second benefit would be to provide employees with those portable CPD points that would demonstrate green competencies as they apply for other explicitly green jobs.

The shift we have made here is to transfer the cost of green career transitions from two groups already under financial pressure—green jobseekers and green employers—to EVERYONE. This is part of a natural and already ongoing evolution. For example, last year we saw Deloitte roll out climate literacy to all 330,000 members of its global workforce, and more generally we are now witnessing the decline of explicit sustainability roles and departments as sustainability becomes a horizontal across the whole business. Remember: in the future there will be no green economy, because the whole economy will be green.


If you need help on your green job search check out our online course How to Make a Mid-Career Transition to a Green Job and career coaching service: book a free 30 minute discovery chat to learn more 🙂

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