Policy Brief: The Skills Shortage and Green Jobs Challenge

By Isobel Jenkinson


Increasing the number of green jobs will play a key role in creating a sustainable planet and therefore a green economy. They are roles which provide decent work, whilst being environmentally sustainable. Whilst green jobs are essential to our future sustainability, they will only reach their potential if countries overcome a major challenge: a skills shortage. This is particularly prevalent in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs), where 70% of the workforce are highly illiterate and over 200 million 15- to 24-year-olds have not completed primary school. Their populations are not equipped with the skill set appropriate to take up new green jobs. It is this skills shortage that could hinder the transition to a greener economy, a transition predicted to affect over half the global workforce, (1.5 billion people).


Transitioning into a green economy is important if we are to deal with the consequences of climate change; increasing temperatures, rising sea levels and extreme weather. In 2014, over 19.3 million people were forced to abandon their homes because of natural hazards. That same year, Typhoon Haguput damaged and disrupted the livelihoods of over 800 000 workers. The effects of climate change will continue to disrupt both rural and urban livelihoods and damage infrastructure in countries and sectors all over the world. But the groups most vulnerable are LDCs, the working poor, the informal economy and sectors which rely on natural resources. Without a transition to a green economy, the planet will struggle to tackle the challenges presented by climate change.

The Green Jobs Programme

In 2009, the ILO partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme, IOE and ITUC to launch the Green Jobs Programme. The programme aims to create green jobs, which provide decent work, whilst being environmentally sustainable. By taking a holistic approach, The Green Jobs Programme undertakes a wide range of actions, creating a coordinated strategy, (Figure 1). The ILO hopes that by providing these services and engaging with the key actors, (civil society, governments and enterprises),  green jobs will be created. In The Green Jobs: Progress Report 2014-2015, the ILO highlighted the progress made so far. This progress included launching The Green Economy Toolkit for Policymakers and testing green jobs assessment models, as well as projects such as Greener Business Asia and The Zambia Green Jobs Programme. This suggests the Green Jobs Programme is making good progress towards creating green jobs.

ilo green job

Figure 1: Themes of the ILO’s Green Jobs Programme


Green Jobs and Employment

The ILO reported that transitioning to a green economy will have a mixed impact on jobs. As the economy is restructured to become greener, there will be a shift away from “browning industries”, (industries which are highly polluting or require large amounts of fossil fuels). Jobs in “browning industries” will be lost and jobs in green industries will be created, and therefore require new skills. Other jobs will be modified to become greener and so will require employees to possess a wider skill set. This poses a challenge for countries wanting to create green jobs. If there are not skilled workers to perform these green jobs, then predictions that the green transition will create 15 to 60 million jobs will not be realised.

Overcoming the skills shortage

The ILO’s Skills for Green Jobs report investigated the causes of skill shortages in 21 countries and provided 13 policy recommendations. In some countries, poor access to primary and lower secondary education caused a lack of foundation skills and high illiteracy whilst other countries had gaps in skills or a lack of labour, for example low numbers of university graduates compared to the total workforce. In informal and rural economies, there was found to be a lack of training opportunities for workers to improve their skills. These are just some of the issues causing the skill shortage and are issues which are particularly prevalent in LDCs.

The ILO’s “Meeting skill needs for green jobs” report (2013) provided policy recommendations for G20 countries. These recommendations included:

  1. Improving policy coordination and encouraging social dialogue.
  2. Encouraging individuals and companies to invest in skills development for green growth.
  3. Improving systems for identifying and anticipating skill needs. More analysis and anticipation of demand for green jobs and related skills.

These recommendations were aimed at G20 governments and excluded LDCs who arguably need more assistance. However the ILO’s Skills for Green Jobs: A Global View recognised that developing countries need special measures, such as increasing capacity of formal education and training skills, and providing entrepreneurship training for young people to start up green businesses.

In addition to these policy recommendations, in 2015, the ILO issued Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all, the Just Transition Framework. The Framework was adopted by a Tripartite Expert meeting and provides a policy framework and practical tools to help countries manage the transition to a green economy. Covering a wide range of areas, it includes skill development policies and recommendations for governments and partners. These recommendations follow a similar theme to the Skills for Green Jobs policies, focusing on better coordination, cooperation, social dialogue and skill identification.

Policy Impact

There has been a mixed response by governments to uptake policy and creating strategies to ensure skill development for green jobs. Here are a few examples of progress so far:

  1. Germany: Responded to the green transition with a coordinated strategy. The system offers education and training in environmental protection topics and has started to integrate elements of sustainability into subjects. This suggests that Germany is already taking action to tackle the potential skills shortage.
  2. China: Currently China has no green jobs standards, however the government has recognised that future training will need to include environmental aspects. This is a start and the ILO consider its current national training packages an appropriate structure where sustainability skills could be integrated into. Despite this potential, China currently has no national initiatives or strategies aimed at developing skills for green jobs.
  3. Mali: Adopted national strategies to tackle poverty such as GPRS, however these strategies do not include green skill development or creation of green jobs. Currently Mali does not have a national strategy for tackling skills for green jobs.

The ILO has identified that if countries are to successfully transition to a green economy, they need to ensure workers possess skills that are required for green jobs. The ILO’s research into the issue has allowed it to provide appropriate policy recommendations, however these policies are not yet widely adopted. Governments need to implement these policies, in the form of a national strategy, if they are to have the maximum impact.


Isobel Jenkinson is a Postgraduate Taught Student in Human Resource Management at the Sheffield University Management School.


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