How universities can help close the climate jobs gap

The global economy is going through a massive shift as the world adapts and seeks to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. Across many industries, this transformation is already well underway. A recent study shows that renewable farms are more efficient and much less expensive than coal plants, General Motors recently committed to selling zero-emissions cars by 2035 and California mandated that half of heavy-duty truck sales be electric by 2035.

And it’s not just the auto industry. These seismic shifts will only accelerate in the coming years, which will lead to equally significant changes in workforce and skills development. Among other transformations, the American economy will create millions of new green jobs while making existing jobs (and the workers in them) greener. Universities, often the slowest institutions to adapt, will need to transform quickly in order to effectively prepare and train the workforce of the future.

current scene

Today, the fastest growing part of the economy is directly related to the fight against the climate crisis. According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Green Skills Report, green jobs grew by more than a third from 2015 to 2021, from 9.6 percent to 13.3 percent, and renewable and environmental jobs grew by a staggering 237 percent over the past five years. The Financial Times reports that CEOs are finding it difficult to find talent who understand how companies affect the climate and how climate affects business. This skills gap appears to be widening in the near future.

At its current pace, LinkedIn estimates that demand for green-skilled workers will outpace supply by 2026. If we don’t proactively address this problem now, it will continue to widen, with disastrous consequences for our economy and planet.

But thinking about green jobs needs to extend beyond our idea of ​​traditional green fields, such as climate, sustainable design, renewable energy, energy efficiency, agronomy, and environmental awareness.

More and more, every position in business will require green skills. We often think of green jobs as those in solar or green energy. But most of the green jobs in the future will result from the greening of traditional jobs.

CFOs and accountants will need to learn how to measure and report sustainable results and ESG initiatives in companies. Investors will need to incorporate climate risks into their analyses. Marketing teams will need to attract environmentally conscious consumers. Operations teams will need to tune entire supply chains. Consider this: In the past three years, the state of Georgia has attracted 35 EV-related projects and more than 27,000 related jobs. Georgia finds itself at the center of America’s electric car battery revolution.

And internally, CEOs and HR directors will need to appeal to Generation Z, which currently represents a third of the world’s population, and a generation in which more than 50 percent strive to work in companies they perceive to be green.

LinkedIn saw 8 percent year-over-year growth in job postings with at least one green skill, but only 6 percent growth annually in members with green skills. This is evidence that there is a strong demand for workers but a shortage of qualified candidates to tackle the climate crisis.

How do higher education institutions resolve this mismatch?

Colleges and universities are usually slow to adapt due to the lengthy time it takes for faculty research and the deliberate, reflective approach to change. And there is no shortage of criticism about the exact pace of academia. However, given the scale of the challenge and the largely unprecedented transition of our economy, higher education must advance with the seriousness and urgency that this crisis demands.

There are a number of ways colleges and universities can take action and lead on this critical issue.

Professors should look to incorporate sustainability into the School of Business curricula, research and teaching across all academic departments to ensure that each faculty member and student has a strong grounding in the principles and practices of sustainability.

Administrators should work to develop specialized certification programs to meet the growing demand for professionals with expertise in sustainable business practices. Courses must regularly update and adapt offerings to reflect the latest developments in sustainability and ensure that faculty members are well equipped to teach these topics.

A culture of sustainability must always be promoted first within the institution by promoting sustainable practices both inside and outside the classroom.

Outside of the lecture halls, the business school should encourage hands-on learning experiences by engaging students in real-world sustainability projects, such as managing investments in ESG funds or participating in campus sustainability initiatives. One great example of this is the Board of Directors of American Universities authorized business school students to recommend $10 million in sustainable investments in a university scholarship.

Colleges can also establish Sustainability Advisory Boards composed of a diverse group of leaders to provide guidance on the future direction of the school’s sustainability programs and ensure that they remain relevant and impactful.

And schools should organize a series of speakers and events that bring together industry leaders and experts to discuss and exchange ideas on sustainable business practices and their transformative potential.

Finally, leaders must foster a culture of sustainability first within the institution by promoting sustainable practices inside and outside the classroom and involving the entire campus community in these initiatives.

Universities lead the way

For the past 10 years, AUC Kogod College of Business has focused on this kind of concrete action. Sustainability Management is our fastest growing program, with applications increasing 100 percent year-over-year. While we are proud of what we have been able to achieve, we also believe there is still a lot of work and learning to do. And by collaborating in pursuit of these changes, we can ensure that institutions of higher education are at the forefront of the fight to transform our economy and workforce.

Fortunately, Kogod is not the only university that is stepping up to this challenge. Columbia Business School is making significant investments in climate finance in conjunction with its new Climate School. The dean told us that Columbia’s climate finance classes are among the most popular courses in the entire business school. Ann Harrison, dean of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, who was recently appointed to a second five-year term, said sustainability is one of her top priorities. Haas has also created a sustainable investment fund for students to gain real investment experience.

While these activations are powerful, universities cannot do it alone. More skills improvement initiatives from governments, companies and other training providers are needed to combat the climate crisis. The faster-growing portion of jobs in the future will help turn the economy into a livable factory, and colleges and universities need to adjust and adapt in order to adequately prepare for the economy of the future.

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