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Green jobs: Europe’s environmental and economic future

More than 20 million European jobs are already linked to the environment in some way – and as the EU gears up for a greener future that figure is only going to increase.

The EU is committed to growing the economy while protecting the earth and its precious resources. It has signed up to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and wants to see a 20% increase in the market share of renewable energy – the aim is to achieve these targets by 2020.

Motor manufacturers address green training

The motor industry is often at the cutting-edge of the economy and it is proving no different when it comes to making their products more eco-efficient. Hybrid vehicles have been on the roads for some time and are proving popular in the market-place because of their lower emissions output.

The production of low carbon vehicles demands new skills for the workforce, something which manufacturers are taking very seriously. For example, BMW plants in Germany provide training in hybrid technology. Meanwhile, Nissan and a regional authority in North east England have teamed up to create a low-carbon technologies training centre.

The key to success will be to ensure that people have the right skills for the green jobs of tomorrow.

To make this happen, plenty of effort is being put in to boosting the green economy. In 2009, the Commission announced that it would provide €105 billion through its cohesion funds to invest in green technologies and eco-innovation.

In addition, priorities laid down in Europe 2020, the EU’s new economic strategy, stress the need for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. That means building a competitive, low-carbon, resource-efficient economy – one of the Europe 2020’s flagship initiatives – and safeguarding the environment by preventing degradation, biodiversity loss and the unsustainable use of resources.

A key goal under Europe 2020 will be to support businesses so that they can compete globally while being able to make the shift to a greener economy. If this is going to happen, people will have to acquire the skills and training needed to work in the green economy.

New jobs need new skills

Another of the Europe 2020’s flagship initiatives is called the New Skills for New Jobs agenda. Its overall goal is to address skills gaps and so make it easier for people to find jobs and for employers to get the workers they require.

The New Skills agenda will be able to support the transition to a low carbon economy by helping Europe anticipate its future labour market needs in this area. It will also strengthen the role of Public Employment Services which can provide people with information on training so that they can better exploit green job opportunities as they arise.

It is important to stress that green jobs are not just hi-tech jobs for the educated elite. For sure Europe will need scientists, researchers and engineers to develop cutting-edge technologies that will save energy and resources. However, such innovative solutions will need to be practically applied in the ‘real world’ across a range of sectors like transport, energy supply and construction.

For example, an architect may design the perfect eco-house, using the latest technologies to reduce power usage and increase thermal efficiency, but the building work will still be carried out by trades-people like joiners, electricians and plumbers. It is essential therefore that these workers get the training they need to exploit the latest green technologies and applications.

There is a need too for other “green collar” workers, such as local authority officers who oversee building regulations that increasingly cover environmental sustainability as well as safety matters.

Issues like these were discussed at a conference on promoting green employment, which was held in Brussels in September 2010.

Creating green companies in Spain- an example

Emplea Verde – The Green Hiring Programme – aims to create 1 000 new green companies and provide skills training for 50 000 workers. With a budget of more than €44 million, the programme subsidises projects that offer help to the self-employed and SME personnel.

It recently provided a grant which will be used to develop skills training related to the installation of solar panels for the construction sector. The training covers everything from technical design to the positioning of solar panels through to administrative, managerial and entrepreneurship issues. The funding should help to create new solar energy companies and assist existing electrical installation businesses that want to diversify into this green and growing market.