7 of 8 Workers Lack Skills That Are Crucial to the Future of Work — and Our Planet

It was great to connect with hundreds of recruitment leaders from across the world at Talent Connect 2023 last fall. A key topic in many of the sessions was the existential threat of climate change and the compelling issue of green skills as they become an indispensable asset in today’s job market. The LinkedIn Green Skills Report highlighted that just 1 in 8 workers currently has one or more green skills, so we are far from the skills penetration we need given that nearly a quarter of job postings now require at least one green skill.

Given this, I was delighted to sit down with Joanna Bonnett, founder of the Green Jobs Foundation and the then head of sustainability and group treasury at PageGroup. Between 2022 and 2023, the share of green talent in the workforce increased by 12.3% while the share of job postings requiring at least one green skill rose by 22.4%, suggesting that by 2026 demand will outweigh supply. It was great to have the opportunity to talk to Joanna about how the need for green skills is outpacing the current talent pool and what can be done to fill the gap.

We began by discussing the difference between green jobs and green skills, and the important distinction between the new jobs being created — which seem to dominate the narrative — and the broader need for so many workers to develop green skills. “There is a lot of confusion,” Joanna says. “Accountants used to account for pounds, dollars, and yen and now they are also being asked to account for carbon emissions. So, there is a shift in skills within different professions, and equally there are new jobs being created.”

It is unclear whether we will see new job titles or a greening of the jobs that already exist. “In the short term,” Joanna says, “we are seeing a big shift in job titles, as procurement officers become sustainable procurement officers, for example. But in the longer term, we will all need green skills. It is like computing 20 years ago — when I started my first job, you needed IT skills and touch typing, but things evolve with changing market expectations.”

LinkedIn’s report also highlighted that green jobs now make up a third of all job postings in the United Kingdom, while 81% of workers who transition into green jobs have prior green experience or some green skill, which could include climate-action planning, corporate sustainability, or sustainable procurement.

The growing number of sustainability leadership roles, like Joanna’s, that are at the board level is another sign of the escalating importance of the sustainability agenda for businesses. “Gone,” she says, “are the days when you can say this isn’t my role. If you are head of technology, head of HR, head of marketing, you need green skills because this is part of the business strategy at board level.”

The expectations of younger employees are driving change

Two themes that are pushing businesses to act on green skills: the immense amount of regulation putting this on the agenda in many boardrooms and the bottom-up expectation from people entering the workforce.

We see that shift in engagement with candidates. Gen Z does not need a company to give them purpose, but they want to align their purpose with their employer and they are checking companies out. Our Future of Recruiting Report shows Zoomers are, for example, 17% more likely than Gen Xers to prioritize an inclusive workplace for diverse backgrounds when looking for jobs.

Joanna adds: “Sustainability is as broad or as narrow as a company would like it to be, but employees want to understand and be a part of that.”

Almost 90% of people in the United States say working for a company committed to the values they believe in is important, and 71% say that is true even in an uncertain economy.

To help companies match with job seekers based on shared values, LinkedIn has rolled out updates to our Commitments feature, which allows companies to showcase their culture and values. A company’s commitments — to work-life balance, DEI, social impact, or career growth and learning — now automatically show up in the Job Details section when jobs are posted, and we’ve introduced a new job search filter so job seekers can easily discover open roles based on these commitments.

Not surprisingly, we find organizations that emphasize their values are better positioned to attract interested candidates and also motivate their employees, especially when it comes to younger generations inspired by purpose-driven work: 85% of Gen Z professionals in the U.S. who work for a company with shared values say they frequently go above and beyond in their job. And on LinkedIn, we’ve seen a more than 154% increase in entry-level job postings globally that included values-related terms.

Tap into your company’s superpower when developing your social impact programs

Given that green skills represent such a huge area, many employers that I speak to are struggling to know where to start.

“My advice for any company is to work out what your superpower is in relation to ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and impact, and where you as a business can move the needle,” Joanna says. “Are you a tech company? Then it is about ethics in AI. Or are you a manufacturer that can make changes in your sourcing of raw materials? 

“Reflecting on my time at PageGroup, our superpower is understanding employment, so our social impact initiatives are centered on our ‘Changing One Million Lives’ program. We are going to change a million lives by breaking down barriers to employment experienced by people in underrepresented communities. For example, providing employment-ready courses for people who may have struggled with chronic unemployment; career coaching and mentoring for refugees; and CV writing workshops with charities. Our programs are focused on creating better employment outcomes.”

She adds: “That initiative speaks to the DNA of what we do and allows all our people to get involved and feel motivated about our central purpose.”

In publicly traded companies, the burden of meeting investor demands for detailed reporting on these issues can be overwhelming. The challenge for companies is to bring initiatives to life in the business.

“It’s about making sure that we articulate and demonstrate how we have actually changed lives,” Joanna says. “We have to show how this lives in the business and the stories, so people can see others like themselves making an impact.”

A skills-based approach can help fill green jobs

Joanna says one of her key takeaways from Talent Connect 2023, LinkedIn’s two-day conference for global talent leaders, was the importance of the skills-based agenda for the green economy, as we look to the current and adjacent skills people have and how those can be captured and leveraged to meet emerging needs.

LinkedIn’s Skills First Report shows that a skills-based approach to hiring can add up to 20 times more eligible workers to talent pools, but there is a big transformation gap to overcome.

“To embrace the skills-first agenda,” Joanna says, “employers need to think holistically about their current needs versus their future needs. A skills-first approach requires employers to take stock of their existing employee base, what skills they already have and whether they can source talent internally.”

I’m already seeing a lot more willingness among both employers and candidates to explore and mobilize careers across industries, and my feeling is we will quickly see experimentation gather pace.

Joanna says: “I’m an optimist too and when I look at the green workforce of the future, the skills-first approach is going to have to be the answer. To meet current 2030 net-zero targets and resolve the shortage, hiring managers are thinking skills-first. For example, offshore engineers are specialized in using deep-sea rigs to extract gas and oil, and time has shown us that those skills are transferable to the offshore wind industry.”

Joanna has established the Green Jobs Foundation to increase access to and awareness of green jobs and she sees a big opportunity to help people make a midcareer transition into green roles. To aid that transition from job A to job B, she says industry is already stepping forward to collaborate with government and professional associations.

Recruiters have an essential role in building a green economy

I sit on an innovation board of global CHROs who are saying the talent industry also needs to take a lead on this and drive the conversation.

Joanna and I spoke with many recruiters at Talent Connect and were struck by their ability to drive change. “Recruiters have access to the data, to the employers, and to the candidates, so there is a real need for us to work together on this,” Joanna says. “Let’s remove the noise and help businesses get to the place they need to be. If we are going to have a talent pipeline shortage, we will have to be able to move people from adjacent roles to greener roles. We need to make sure our own consultants are ready to help with the transition.”

Today, even as overall hiring slowed in the past year, green hiring is bucking the trend. Our data shows that since 2020 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. In this next revolution, it is incumbent on our industry to play our part in that transition, reskilling, upskilling, and skills transfer.

Final thoughts: Workers need to learn green skills on the job

It was great to spend time with Joanna discussing green skills, the drivers of change, defining our superpowers, and building a skills-based approach.

With 7 in 8 workers lacking a green skill at a time when the future of our planet depends on them, it is not enough for organizations to create more green roles. Instead, the magnitude and urgency of the climate change problem requires that today’s workers learn green skills on the job.

By identifying the most relevant green skills for each role and industry, we can develop targeted, tailored reskilling programs. And by extending reskilling opportunities to workers in countries that have been left behind during previous periods of economic growth, we can expand access to the economic opportunities that the green transformation will unlock.

The green transformation that this moment demands across the entire economy can only happen if green skills proliferate throughout the global workforce. Workers in every sector and at every level of their organizations need and deserve to be part of the solution, and the recruitment industry is uniquely positioned to help make that a reality.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn and is part of the In Conversation series in which Adam Hawkins, head of sales for LinkedIn’s search and staffing vertical in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, talks with recruitment leaders from across those regions.