The uphill upskill battle: Are businesses ignoring training when it comes to delivering on sustainability?

Fresh research has shown that Gen Z workers are searching for jobs and roles at brands that showcase commitments to sustainability, but do not believe they have the green skills required to help. So, what can businesses do to better embed sustainability across the workforce?

The uphill upskill battle: Are businesses ignoring training when it comes to delivering on sustainability?

It won’t be news to many that Gen Z is considered the most environmentally conscious generation. Many are seeing the impacts and threats of the climate crisis in real time and want to help to respond accordingly. However, research suggests they may not be given the opportunities to do so.

New research published this week by LinkedIn found that just 5% of Gen Zs in the workforce believe they have the green skills required to help drive a net-zero transition.

Based on the insights of more than one billion LinkedIn users globally, the research notes that Gen Zs are entering the sustainability and climate workforce at a faster rate than any other demographic (a 33% increase since 2016 compared to 0.3% for millennials).

All well and good, but previous research from LinkedIn found that just one in eight of the existing workforce currently have green skills and this drops to one in 20 for Gen Zs globally.

With predictions suggesting that Gen Z will account for one-third of the workforce by 2030 – a midpoint for many corporations on the road to net-zero, only one in 10 Gen Zs will have the required green skills by that point.

A skills gap is emerging and corporates need to pay more attention to training, incentivisation and communication to take sustainability out of a silo and embed it across an increasingly action-orientated workforce.

“Young people are confident they can learn green skills if they’re given training. In the face of an ongoing green talent shortage that is putting climate progress at risk, it’s essential that businesses and policymakers do more to prioritise skills training and entry-level green jobs to empower young workers in the green transition,” LinkedIn’s vice president of public policy Sue Duke said.

Barriers to action

LinkedIn points to some familiar barriers to a lack of green skills in this emerging workforce. Firstly, job posting and opportunities – cited by 63% – are still a challenge despite growing year on year.

Many sustainability professionals will believe that their department is under resourced, both financially and in terms of talent. On the flip side, Gen Z workers believe a lack of experience on their behalf (45%) and skills (40%) are stopping them from stepping into sustainability roles or working for companies with strong sustainability credentials.

It may well be that entry-level roles, supported with internal training, could help under-resourced green departments while attracting (and retaining) talent that actively cares about the environment.

Indeed, 78% of Gen Z workers believe that if they were offered training they would improve key green skills that would assist with corporate efforts to decarbonise.

While some businesses are waiting on governments to roll out green skills training programmes, some are taking matters into their own hands to make every job a green job.

Danone, for example, launched a new global training programme called “DanSkills,” aimed at addressing both the impending green skills revolution and the company’s anticipated need to fill 2,500 positions in Europe by 2027.

DanSkills will be open to all Danone employees worldwide, regardless of qualifications, job roles, or age. It is designed to provide employees with opportunities to pursue career paths that align with their professional aspirations, thereby strengthening innovation, creativity, shared efficiency, and overall performance within the company.

Elsewhere, Business in the Community has launched a Green Skills Lab, calling on businesses to collaborate at workshops to help build training capacity on sustainability issues for workers.

These cases are the exception rather than the norm and with LinkedIn finding that 61% of Gen Z workers want to work in a green job in the next five years, businesses that can offer upskilling as part of work could attract and retain even more talent over the next few years.

Indeed, only 30% state that their current employer offers skills green training.

Additionally, the CFA Institute 2024 Global Graduate Outlook Survey, also published this week, found that 91% of British graduates would be impacted by corporate approaches to ESG when looking at jobs.

New research from CFA Institute surveyed 1,000 UK-based university graduates and students aged between 18-25 and found that the vast majority would be impacted by ESG ambitions. A separate CFA Institute survey of 500 UK candidates studying for the CFA Program also found that half of finance professionals, especially those at the start of their careers, are eager to gain more climate analysis and ESG skills.

A common theme emerges across both surveys. The majority of graduates (93%) see upskilling and professional qualifications as key to career success.

Peter Watkins, Senior Director, University Programs at CFA Institute said: “Graduates are being hit hard by the current economic climate. This is reshaping the career landscape for young people, driving them towards higher-paying jobs that they perceive as more stable. However, despite a tough job market, Gen Z is not prepared to compromise on their morals and values as they search for a career.”

Attracting the talent

Last year, LinkedIn reported that one-third of job postings on its platform in the UK over a one-year period were classed as “green roles”. Such postings were 15.2% higher year-on-year.

While this suggests that more businesses are strengthening the sustainability department – corporate sustainability roles were included under LinkedIn’s definition of green – it doesn’t solve the issue that many sustainability professionals are feeling right now; departments are still under resourced, stretched and struggling to embed actions across other parts of the business.

In a previous Members piece, edie explored how more businesses should look to tie sustainability to training efforts and remuneration and benefit packages.

Research from employee benefits technology company Zest found that just three in 10 employees currently believe that corporate benefit platforms support the needs of the individuals, with four in 10 stating that they want their company to invest in sustainable and accessible options as part of benefits packages.

On the HR front, 44% of businesses are now reporting an increase in the number of employees asking for sustainable benefits. As such, benefits packages and incentivisation across the business is one such way for an organisation to showcase its actions and ambitions on sustainability to new staff prospects.

Another issue that businesses are still grappling with is how to articulate their sustainability efforts.

Data from RepRisk shows that one in every five cases of corporate risk incidents linked to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues stems from greenwashing. It is an issue that every sustainability practitioner has had to grapple with and, as frameworks like the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) Green Claims Code emerge, the number of corporates called out for false green claims may well grow.

Sustainability professionals are well-versed in the risks of greenwashing, but now some corporates are being accused of “greenhushing”.

Greenhushing gained traction when it was first covered by consultancy Treehugger back in 2020, which at the time claimed that greenhushing would happen because businesses were hesitant to share progress on sustainability initiatives.

Against the rising tide of new guidance on avoiding greenwashing, it appears that many businesses are hesitant to share their sustainability ambitions, projects and progress for fear of being called out.

The downside to this reluctance is that they could well be missing out on a swelling talent pool that would most likely be attracted to green efforts that businesses are failing to talk about.

It’s a tough job, but businesses need to find a middle ground between data collection and disclosure – so they can back up their green claims – overly eager marketing and communications departments who might want to oversell something on sustainability and the need to actually deliver on targets.

The solution is to embed sustainability actions across the workforce, a task which will be made easier as more Gen Z workers enrol into organisations. This won’t happen unless businesses start being transparent with their aims and ambitions and realise that progress, rather than perfection, needs to be shown.

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