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Engineering A Sustainable Future: The Vital Role Of Green Skills For Engineers

The world we live in today has been aptly described and qualified by the acronym of VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It is a world that is changing every day, assuming different shapes and forms and leaving behind those who are resisting change. In this uncertain and complex world, engineers find themselves at a crucial junction in history as they face the pressing need to adapt to the needs of the green economy ahead of us. The transition to a carbon-neutral economy with the least possible ecological footprint will trigger a fundamental transformation across a wide range of sectors. New jobs will be created. Some jobs will be replaced. Others will be redefined—and it’s already happening. This, consequently, introduces the necessary need for a transformation in the job skills people must possess if they are to survive this ‘Great Reshuffle.’ These skills are what have been aptly termed  as  ‘green skills.’

Green skills, according to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), ‘are the knowledge, abilities, values and attitudes needed to live in, develop and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society.’ In more explicit terms, green skills are defined by the Green Skills Resources as ‘those skills needed to reduce environmental impacts and support economic restructuring to attain cleaner, more climate resilient and efficient economies that preserve environmental sustainability and provide decent work conditions.’ Green skills comprise a wide array of competencies, ranging from renewable energy technologies to sustainable materials and circular design principles. Sustainable procurement, carbon accounting, hydrogen storage, ecosystem management, solar system design and its installation are among the laundry list of them.

Possession of these skills stand not only as a way of arresting the shocks of the looming transformation, but also as a fundamental and critical part of the conversation about achieving a green transition and of our becoming beneficiaries, and not victims of it. According to Climate Science, for example, one sure way to make a monumental contribution, as an individual, towards climate action and sustainability is by addressing it as one’s career. In the forthcoming years, there is an expectation, if not a conviction, to see millions of new jobs created globally; jobs driven by new climate policies and commitments. To leverage these jobs, green skills are not an advantage or a luxury, but a necessity that we must address as such—especially as engineers that we are.

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The Urgency

Facing the “Great Reshuffle,” it is a consensus that green skills are one of the two most necessary skills one must possess to thrive—the other being tech skills. This is underlined by the massive shift underway in the global economy from a linear to a regenerative one; a circular one. Hiring for green jobs in the global workforce is already rising faster than any other category, and—all things being equal—it will continue to be for, at least, until climate change and sustainability are no longer a concern for this planet.

According to the Global Green Skills Report 2023, the demand for green skills is rapidly outpacing the supply. Globally, only 10 out of 80 of the people currently in the global workforce have a minimum of one green skill. ‘Between 2022 and 2023 alone, the share of green talent in the workforce rose by a median of 12.3% across the 48 countries we examined, while the share of job postings requiring at least one green skill grew nearly twice as quickly—by a median of 22.4%,’ the Report noted. This spike in the demand for green skills is prevalent even in carbon-intensive industries like oil and gas, as outlined by the report, where ‘the green talent concentration in the…industry has steadily increased since 2016, reaching 21% in 2023.’ A challenge, yes. But also an opportunity; a huge opportunity that is in every corner of the engineering profession.

Take the energy sector, for example. The shift towards distributed energy resources (DERs) such as wind and solar power presents engineers with an unprecedented opportunity to drive change and not only ‘get’ jobs, but rather ‘provide’ them. Engineers can design and implement innovative energy solutions, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and, consequently, mitigating the impact of climate change. And, again, this is already happening. ‘From 2015 to 2023, employment in the renewable energy industry grew in every country we studied. For every 100 workers who left the global renewable energy sector, 120 workers joined,’  the Global Green Skills Report asserted.

The Green Engineer’s Advantage

As outlined at the beginning of this article, acquiring green skills is not only a professional obligation but also a strategic advantage for us as engineers. Engineers with green skills are already highly sought after by forward-thinking companies and organisations. Our ability to design sustainable products, optimise processes, and reduce environmental impact makes us indispensable in a world that increasingly values eco-consciousness.

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Another advantage is in the resilience of the green skills and the jobs that require them—even during crisis and times of uncertainty. According to the Report earlier mentioned, while ‘overall hiring slowed globally between February 2022 and February 2023, job postings requiring at least one green skill have grown by a median of 15.2% over the same period. And since March 2020, our data shows, workers with green skills have been hired for new jobs at a higher rate than those without green skills in every single country we studied.

The Promise of a Sustainable Future

As engineers, we are natural problem solvers. We are trained to tackle complex challenges head-on. The challenge of our time is sustainability, and the solution lies, for the most part, in embracing green skills. It’s not enough to rest on our laurels and rely on traditional engineering knowledge. We must evolve, adapt, and expand our skill set to include green competencies and ensure that we are not made strangers in our own home of problem-solving. Acquiring green skills may seem daunting, but it’s a journey worth embarking on. Reskilling and upskilling opportunities are abundant, ranging from online courses and certifications to workshops and industry-specific training programs. Governments, educational institutions, and industry associations are increasingly offering resources to support engineers in their transition to green skills.

By equipping ourselves with the knowledge and abilities needed to support a sustainable and resource-efficient society as engineers, we ensure that our profession remains at the forefront of innovation and leading in the economy of the future. We ensure that we remain beneficiaries and not victims of change. As engineers, we have the power to create a world where technology and sustainability coexist. We have the power to be the navigators of the “inevitable” change taking over this world. We cannot only be passengers but drivers in this quest for change. The path forward is clear: embrace green skills and engineer a brighter,  more sustainable future for all. We have to both upskill and reskill our youngsters who currently lack those skills and ensure green skills are hardwired into the skillset of future generations.

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