Accelerating ‘green’ school-to-work transitions

The global shift to a green economy is creating opportunities for job growth and sustainability. In a new report, UNICEF highlights 7 ways to expand school-to-work transitions into green jobs.

June 17, 2024 by Andaleeb Alam, UNICEF Innocenti, and Cristina Colón, UNICEF Innocenti
4 minutes read
Harouna and Fatoumata Diarra, both 10 years old and in 3rd grade at Chettou Basic School, came to plant trees as part of World Earth Day. Mali
Harouna and Fatoumata Diarra, both 10 years old and in 3rd grade at Chettou Basic School, came to plant trees as part of World Earth Day. Mali
Credit: UNICEF/UNI562951/Keïta

To achieve the global target of net-zero emissions by 2050 requires major structural changes in our economies—also known as the ‘green transition.’

Different dimensions of the green transition include:

  • a shift away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy
  • the greening of agriculture, mobility and heavy industry
  • sustainable cities and infrastructure
  • and the move to a circular economy based on the reuse and regeneration of materials or products to allow for waste reduction and sustainability.

If managed well, the green transition has the potential to create more jobs. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates 25 million net new jobs will be created by 2030 as a result of the decarbonization of energy and increases in the uptake of circular economy practices that promote a sustainable model of production and consumption that makes the most of available material resources through principles to reduce (namely consumption and pollution), reuse and recycle.

Renewable energy, manufacturing, transportation, construction, agriculture, water and waste management, and tourism are expected to see high levels of growth in the green economy. Meanwhile, job destruction will be concentrated in fossil fuel industries.

The green transition is driving change in the type and scale of knowledge and skills needed in the workplace. But it’s not just about changing demand for technical skills. Transferable skills (such as problem solving, adaptability and communication) will be especially important across all skill levels.

However, today’s gaps in education as well as training outcomes and systems compromise young people’s acquisition of knowledge and skills that they need to meet the demands of the green transition.

Globally, there’s a lack of green skills. Education and training are often not prioritized in climate policies, and almost no climate finance goes to education and skills training systems. Young people also say they don’t see ‘green careers’ as viable and feel inadequately prepared to take ‘green jobs’ due to a lack of skills needed for them as well as lack of knowledge of both what these jobs are about and their availability.

UNICEF Innocenti report on green school-to-work transitions

UNICEF’s new report sets out 7 ways in which governments, development partners and the private sector can create and expand the school-to-work transition into green jobs that will be necessary to successfully make the transition to net zero.

  1. Look beyond a narrow focus on occupational skills for the green economy and develop a holistic, lifecycle approach to green skills. Top priority should be given to 1) investing in basic and transferable skills for young people that are likely to be a prerequisite for many green economy jobs, and to 2) embedding climate change and environmental education into the curriculum. For green jobs, some young people will also need to develop further technical and vocational skills and gain on-the-job experience aligned with labor market demand. But to make informed educational and career decisions, young people also need career guidance and mentoring specific to green jobs. Gender inclusion and equity also need special attention given the gender gap and segregation in both green economy sectors and skills development initiatives. 
  2. Supply-side interventions will be insufficient. Complementary interventions are needed on the demand side to expand access to green jobs for young people. This means: tackling systemic barriers that skilled young people face in entering green jobs (such as lack of information about job openings and job requirements, gender barriers that exclude women from green job opportunities); supporting businesses to expand the number of green jobs and incentivizing them to take a youth-inclusion focus in hiring strategies for their operations and supply chains; and equipping young people with the skills, support and resources to develop their own green enterprises. 
  3. Redirect a bigger share of development and climate change funds to education, training and employment interventions, especially in countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts.
  4. Develop a framework for measuring the impact that education and employment interventions have on climate mitigation and adaptation to unlock more funding for this area.
  5. Urge employers and actors in green economy sectors to invest in their own talent pipelines on which their future prosperity and sustainability will depend. The private sector’s input on government-led education and skills initiatives will also be vital to making sure interventions are relevant and can create the pool of workers equipped with skills employers are likely to need.
  6. Improve coordination between education, labor market demand, and environment policy and programming through improved dialogue and collaboration across departments, mechanisms for appropriate intersectoral coordination and consultation, and improved coherence between policies for climate and education so as to avoid inconsistencies that create a mismatch between skills demand and supply, and further slow down green policy implementation.
  7. Integrate meaningful youth engagement in green transition strategies to empower youth to develop innovative solutions and to aid in the successful implementation of green initiatives.

The green transition is reshaping the labor markets young people will be entering. If young people are to participate in and benefit from these opportunities, urgent action is needed from government, development partners and the private sector to reshape education and skills training.

Young people must be equipped with the knowledge, skills, support and resources they need to make their livelihoods in the green economy, and to become climate and sustainability advocates and changemakers. A narrow, siloed approach will not cut it. There’s great need for better coordination and coherence between the education, employment and climate agendas and their actors.

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