Building a Workforce for the Climate Transition
The pandemic completely disrupted and transformed the workforce landscape - but we’re not talking about navigating Zoom meetings or working with kids in the house. According to Pew Research Center, retirement rates of baby boomers skyrocketed during the pandemic, and with 75 million boomers turning 65 and retiring by 2030 - that means Gen Z and Millennials will soon make up a majority of the workforce.
The good news: Studies conducted by Pew Research Center show that Gen Z and Millennials are more aware and eager to talk about climate change, regularly interact with climate-related topics on social media, and are more likely to attend climate rallies and volunteer opportunities in comparison to older generations.
In fact, Gen Z and Millenials are arguably the most important and affected stakeholders when talking about the future of the planet - which is precisely why we want to examine their role in the global talent ecosystem at this critical moment in the climate and clean energy transition.
The bad news: According to the Linkedin Global Green Skills Report of 2022, we might not have talent in place quickly enough to fully adopt the technologies and economic systems required to defend our climate in the coming years. Many levers exist to speed up this transition - including education, policy, training programs, fellowships and internships, recruiting and hiring processes, and corporate behavior at large - but workforce infrastructure is lagging far behind where it needs to be in what is being called “The Decisive Decade.”
So what can be done?
To answer our most pressing questions about youth and climate workforce development, we’ve teamed up with Amit Saraogi and Ankur Singh, CEO and Senior Manager for Oorja Solutions, and Eugene Kirpichov, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Work on Climate.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing Gen Z and Millennials entering the climate workforce, and how are those challenges being addressed movement-wide?
Work on Climate: We believe that the biggest challenge for people entering the climate workforce is lack of awareness of the career pathways that can allow them to work on climate. According to Work On Climate's early findings, the vast majority of Americans lack awareness that one's career can be a powerful lever for helping climate change (compared to individual choice as a consumer and to political advocacy), so they are not even considering the possibility of finding a climate job that matches their skills, or they are considering only a very narrow set of climate career options. Media is slowly beginning to talk about climate careers, and a growing number of young organizations are focusing on preparing young folks for climate work, but a lot more work is needed.
Q: What are the top challenges climate action organizations are facing in accessing talent?
Oorja: Many climate organizations are unable to offer lucrative and high-paying jobs, which becomes a bottleneck, and they face competition from other well-established industries that can offer higher salaries, more clearly defined career paths, and incentives. Additionally, organizations operating in remote areas and peri-urban areas face difficulties in sourcing local talent or professionals due to the scarcity of individuals with knowledge and expertise in the climate space.
Q: What climate areas are currently looking to grow their pipelines that may be a surprise to our readers?
Work on Climate: Some specific current and imminent talent shortages we’re aware of include battery chemists, manufacturing engineers, project finance specialists, sustainability staff and consultants, not to speak of the well-known shortage of skilled tradespeople. However, it may be a surprise to readers that most roles involved in building climate solutions will not require any climate-specific skills. Building climate solutions is about rebuilding all existing industries, and the people needed to do that are largely the same people already working in these industries: for example, to transition from animal to plant protein, we don't need climate scientists - we need food chemists and marketers; to transition from gas to electric vehicles, we don't need sustainability specialists - we need electrical and mechanical engineers to build the vehicles, lawyers and urban and rural planners to enable the charging infrastructure, and operations and business development people to do it efficiently and profitably.
Q: What are some ideal interdisciplinary skill sets for climate-conscious workers?
Oorja: Communication skills are essential for climate-conscious workers to engage stakeholders and create awareness about climate issues. It is also important to develop the ability to tailor messages to different audiences, use clear and compelling language, and employ various communication channels. There is also a need to engage in collaborative projects that require effective project management skills. Workers should be able to plan, organize, and execute climate initiatives, coordinate diverse teams, and manage resources efficiently. Teamwork skills, including collaboration, leadership, and problem-solving, are also crucial for successful climate work.
Q: How can we rapidly transform the talent ecosystem to help achieve the larger goal of mitigating climate change?
Work on Climate: Today we not only lack the people in certain critical roles, but we lack the systems that could possibly bring the people. The only way we'll create the workforce necessary to mitigate climate change - hundreds of millions of workers across all roles and industries - is if the entire talent ecosystem, with its massive influence over the skills and career paths of billions of people, does its part. To that end, we are creating the Climate Workforce Coalition. Another issue is that today we lack support from the wider climate movement in creating these systems. Funders, advocates, and international organizations need to wake up to the reality that the transition to a climate-positive economy involves a massive labor transition and embrace the workforce as a core pillar of climate action - on par with climate policy and investment into specific solutions.
There is no industry, no job, and no passion that cannot be tied to climate, the topic Gen Z and Millennials have long communicated is a top concern for them. Supply chains will be completely transformed, innovation will continue to thrive, and sustainability will be the underpinning of all successful business plans. The industry has a responsibility to demonstrate that the priorities of the workforce can also create fulfilling and profitable professional pathways. Allowing people who have shown that they care about climate to trust that they can indeed put climate first when it comes to the fruitfulness of their education and career is to allow the imagination and enthusiasm of an enormous workforce to blossom.
By: Lindsay DeTroia, Global Warming Mitigation Project