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Green collar aspirations

Jovi Ho
Jovi Ho • 11 min read
Green collar aspirations
Although nearly nine in 10 business leaders here support the Singapore government’s plans to extend the green transition, only some four in 10 feel they have a strong understanding of the plans and measures. Photo: Shutterstock
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Over three-quarters of the region’s youth wish to join the green economy this decade. What opportunities lie in sustainability, and what skills are in demand?

Working towards a more sustainable environment appeals to young people worldwide, especially in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region.

IT services and consulting firm Accenture asked 29,500 people between the ages of 15 and 39 in 18 countries: “Do you aspire to get a job or pursue a career within the green economy in the next 10 years?”

In Europe and the US, more than half answered yes. But in APAC, that number surpassed three-fourths of the respondents.

By 2030, Accenture expects the number of green jobs in Australia, China, India, Indonesia and Japan will grow 62% to reach 32.6 million. More than 12 million jobs will be in transportation, and nearly 10 million more jobs will come from supplying low-carbon electricity, especially renewable energy.

Still, Accenture says green pathways are opening up “too slowly” from the perspective of young people. “The five countries where we modelled jobs growth have 665 million young people between 15 and 39 active in the labour force today. In that context, 32.6 million green jobs provide opportunities for just 5% of the active workforce among the young population, far short of the anticipated demand.”

See also: Who should drive sustainability within the company?

Previously, there was never a sustainability career path, especially in Asia, says Michelle Chan Crouse, executive director at global leadership advisory Russell Reynolds Associates.

She adds: “There wasn’t as much of an attraction to this field. However, now there is a focus.” The pandemic has also reinvigorated people’s interest in sustainability, giving workers and companies a new purpose.

See also: End of cheap money, cheap labour and cheap energy: Ravi Menon

An associate at one of the Big Four consulting firms — who declined to be named — joined the sustainability advisory team for the “dynamic” pace of work. “I thought it was an interesting and nascent industry where things are developing quickly, which makes things quite dynamic because things are being developed on the fly.”

Months into his new role, the local graduate tells The Edge Singapore: “Some people come into sustainability looking to change the world, some come into it looking to ride a wave, some are academically interested in it. People are drawn to it for these kinds of different reasons. I was drawn to it because I wanted to work on these complex problems that don’t already have a defined answer.”

He says sustainability is becoming more integrated into business, citing conversations with senior professionals. “There won’t be one sustainability team or unit championing that then working in a silo outside all the other business functions. They see that being integrated a lot more intimately with core business functions. What it means for jobs and for people our age is that in almost any job function, there will be an expectation that sustainability is considered.”

Not all that glitters is green

The green economy forms one of the five pillars under the Singapore Green Plan 2030, which outlines the country’s ambitious targets to advance its national agenda on sustainable development.

Although nearly nine in 10 business leaders here support the Singapore government’s plans to extend the green transition, only some four in 10 feel they have a strong understanding of the plans and measures, says Schneider Electric.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Schneider Electric’s Singapore Green Pulse survey respondents believe their company’s environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and sustainability efforts are attractive in retaining and attracting talent.

See also: Cost and convenience hinder sustainable living, baby boomers greener than Gen Z: OCBC Climate Index

Notably, 93% of the 500 business leaders surveyed said they would likely switch jobs based on a company’s ESG and sustainability performance.

By 2030, Accenture expects some 6.5 million jobs to produce renewable energy for power grids in Australia, China, India, Indonesia and Japan. Yet, just 15% of the region’s youth want to work in the energy industry. Fewer want to work in other “old economy” industries, says Gianfranco Casati, chief executive officer of growth markets at Accenture.

These spurned industries include utilities, chemicals manufacturing, and metals and mining. Yet, overlooked sectors may hold the most promise. Accenture predicts that 76% of the new green jobs will be created in traditional industries, such as construction and manufacturing, as they pivot towards greener practices.

“There is every indication that the region’s youth are especially enthusiastic about making a positive environmental impact and working for organisations that demonstrate a real commitment to sustainability,” says Casati. “The challenge is for companies to move quickly enough to appeal to this talent and design jobs that allow youth to make a lasting difference.”

Behold the sustainability manager

LinkedIn’s Global Green Skills Report found that the role of sustainability manager (28.6%) is the fastest growing green job across APAC, with Singapore (41%) observing the highest growth in demand, followed by China (33%), New Zealand (29%), Australia (24%) and India (16%).

LinkedIn’s recent Jobs on the Rise list also featured the role of a sustainability manager as among the top emerging jobs in Singapore, behind talent acquisition specialists, back-end developers, healthcare assistants and machine learning engineers.

To calculate a role’s growth rate, the job portal’s researchers examined job listings from 2017 to the middle of last year.

Sustainability managers oversee a company’s overall sustainability strategy and projects. LinkedIn’s data shows that their most common skills include sustainability reporting, consulting and corporate social responsibility.

Before their role, these employees spent a median of 5.6 years in the workforce — the most experienced workers among Singapore’s top five emerging roles.

The most common industries they work in are management consulting, information technology and the service and maritime industries. Two-thirds of them identify as female, while a third place as male.

One design graduate spent seven years in various roles before joining a local real estate developer as an assistant sustainability manager.

She says: “The world does not need more products but a new approach to how they’re produced, used and disposed of.”

She was previously hired in internal communications at a local fashion brand before moving into the sustainability department. There, she oversaw the green certification of the brand’s boutiques and facilitated the audit of store and office operations while supporting sustainability communications.

Now, as she focuses on sustainability communications and engagement in her current role, she remains optimistic.

“People hardly talked about sustainability 10 years ago. For me, the future is either in smart technology or sustainability or a convergence of the two,” she tells The Edge Singapore.

Last year alone, the sectors with the highest share of green talent hires included manufacturing, education and corporate services. LinkedIn says APAC has seen a 30% growth in hiring for green jobs since 2016 but lags behind the US (70%) and Europe (41%).

In Singapore, the education and finance sectors have a high share of green hires — likely a reflection of solid government support, adds LinkedIn.

However, the city-state’s green transformation is making mixed progress, says the online networking platform. “While the share of green hiring was 15% higher in 2021 compared to 2016, non-green jobs also accounted for a growing share of hiring and from a much larger base, almost 50% of total hires. There is much to be done if the city-state is to reach the green economy goals laid out in the country’s Green Plan 2030.”

Skills in demand

Last December, SkillsFuture Singapore estimated that there would be more than 450 job roles across 17 sectors that require green skills. The “priority skill clusters” include green process design, carbon footprint management, environmental management systems and sustainability management. Sectors hiring for these roles include manufacturing, trade and connectivity, information and communication technology, financial services, hospitality, and the built environment.

The reality of the market in Asia and the relative immaturity of the industry is that the list of skills in demand is increasingly long, says Paddy Balfour, executive director, APAC at the UK-based company Acre, which specialises in sustainability recruitment.

As he tells The Edge Singapore: “While the technical expertise required to drive sustainable change varies from person to person, driving real change in purpose-driven professions will require strong non-technical skills, such as executive influence, strategy development and delivery, business insight and inclusive leadership.”

Acre reports a “huge demand” for sustainability talent across all business segments. There are several reasons for this increase, notes Balfour.

These include a changing regulatory landscape in Asia as bourses demand sustainability reports, growth in renewable energy and sustainable finance, and climate change’s material impact on Asian countries.

Reskilling will be critical in the years ahead, he continues. “While there is an opportunity for companies to look for and hire suitable talent outside their organisation, many companies and business leaders are also focusing on developing and honing these qualities within existing teams.”

When countries grounded flights during the pandemic, Ian Lim traded his Singapore Airlines cabin crew uniform for a role in building equipment manufacturer Johnson Controls.

In 2020, Lim underwent a nine-month traineeship under the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme. “I have always been a tech enthusiast, and I believe that digitalisation and sustainability will play a bigger role in many sectors, including the built environment industry, which was why I decided to join Johnson Controls.”

Today, Lim is a commercial programme analyst with Johnson Controls Asia Pacific’s digital solutions team. He leads the train-and-place programme for job seekers and mid-career individuals interested in moving into the built environment sector.

Lim is also involved in projects at the Johnson Controls OpenBlue Innovation Center at the National University of Singapore, a “living lab” that tests new digital concepts for an innovative, sustainable workplace. He adds that these include facial recognition sensors and prototypes to integrate disparate building systems better.

He says the younger applicants are not just looking for work but careers. They also want a relatable work culture that allows for healthy work-life integration.

Simultaneously, Lim believes that digitalisation and sustainability are two drivers that will continue to gain momentum. “The existential threat of climate change is real and can no longer be ignored. The built environment industry can simplify efforts by uniting digitalisation and sustainability efforts, maximising efficiency and productivity.”

Shifting preferences

With the shift in employee and consumer sentiment and preferences, green jobs span a wide range of industries, says Rupali Gupta, talent solutions leader at global consulting firm Mercer.

These range from the “more obvious” sectors like renewable energy to unexpected ones like finance, fashion technologies and transportation.

Says Gupta: “We’ve seen more sustainability roles increasingly opening up in the finance sector as Singapore strives to become a global green finance hub. The demand for sustainability roles comes as investors require more data on ‘green credentials’ in investment opportunities. Financial institutions are boosting their investments in green and sustainable businesses and insurance [companies] moving toward assessing risks and the associated premiums for the traditional and green sectors.”

To support the green economy, Singapore needs good talent and partnerships in renewable energy, integrated sustainable solutions and digital innovations, says Wong Kim Yin, group president and CEO of Sembcorp Industries.

Sembcorp’s Centres of Excellence (CoEs) house experts that improve skills in key business streams, such as Sembcorp’s Water CoE in China, Solar CoE in Singapore, Wind CoE in India, Urban CoE in Vietnam and Energy Storage CoE in the UK.

Speaking to SkillsFuture Singapore for its 2021 report, Wong tells of one worker who joined Sembcorp 15 years ago as a senior project engineer in Jurong Island. After rising the ranks to become senior manager, Malaysian-born Chua Kia switched in 2017 to help set up Sembcorp’s solar team, which grew from five persons to more than 100 today. As project and engineering director for Sembcorp’s solar business, Chua now leads the solar CoE in the region.

As Singapore transitions into the green economy, all businesses should begin to understand and limit their carbon footprint, says Russell Tham, joint head of the enterprise development group (Singapore) and head of strategic development at Temasek International.

“The ‘greener’ your company or your skills are, the more competitive and employable one would be. Today, there is rapidly increasing demand for such ‘green’ skills, much like data science and advanced digital skills,” says Tham to SkillsFuture Singapore.

Numerous sectors are “inherently carbon-intensive”, he adds. These include transportation, heavy industries, energy generation and the built environment. Many such sectors will require novel Science, technology, engineering and maths or Stem-based innovations to pivot their businesses.

This will present “lots of opportunities” for current and future cohorts with a Stem background, Tham continues. “If you develop the products and services that are differentiated and valued [by your customers], then I think the world is your market.”

Photos: Acre, Russell Reynolds Associates, Johnson Controls, Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore

Infographics: SkillsFuture Singapore, Accenture, LinkedIn

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