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Industry must go for green skills

By Heather Ridout - posted Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Only 10 per cent of companies feel confident about managing the risks associated with climate change, according to recent research by the Australian Industry Group and Sustainability Victoria. Similarly, only one in 10 companies has a good understanding of the key environmental issues relevant to their business.

These are big-ticket issues: the effects of an emissions trading scheme, the costs associated with government regulations and programs designed to reduce greenhouse gases, the impact of disposal and recycling of a company's waste and the life-cycle environmental impact of a company's products.

If 10 per cent are confident, then what does this mean for the other 90 per cent? What do they need to know and how are they going to access skills needed to make the business contribution demanded by climate change?


Responding to climate change will require a fundamental shift in Australia's approach to management and workforce skills. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions means new processes for industrial and agricultural production, new research and investment in low-emission technologies, new patterns of consumption, and innovative thinking in almost every aspect of business life. Business as usual will simply not suffice.

How effectively business responds depends heavily on having the right skills. And yet the importance of skills is frequently overlooked in all the policy debate around climate change.

Climate change demands not only the development of new skills to support new jobs in new industries, it also demands a retooling of the skills of the Australian workforce, as existing jobs and industries are re-oriented.

CSIRO modelling suggests that in order to make deep cuts in Australia's greenhouse emissions, it will be necessary to provide green skills for up to 3.25 million workers in sectors that have a high environmental impact. Many other low environmental impact industries will also require green-collar jobs as Australia moves to meet deep cuts in its emissions between 2020 and 2050.

The skills identified include industry-specific foundational knowledge (such as knowledge of the properties of CO2 in the carbon capture and storage industries) as well as high-level information technology skills, strong technical skills and excellent generic skills such as problem solving, analysis and communication. Already there is a significant body of evidence showing the impact skills shortages are having in preventing businesses from adopting greener solutions.

Public training providers in some states report that they are operating at capacity in traditional trade areas and so are not able to move into the new technology areas which will help address climate change, despite high levels of public interest.


In other areas, a lack of availability of suitable training courses and facilities is delaying the improvement of workers' skills in areas such as solar and photovoltaic technology.

AI Group research on emerging technologies identified a strong demand for skills in technologies focused on addressing climate change, global warming and population growth. What is particularly interesting about such technologies is that they are interrelated, multi-disciplinary and highly diverse. As a consequence they cross traditional industry and educational boundaries. This presents significant challenges to a training sector organised along traditional industry lines.

It is also imperative that the skills needed to meet the climate change challenge are embedded at every level of Australian industry, from the shop floor to the boardroom.

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First published in The Australian on October 8, 2008.

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About the Author

Heather Ridout is Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Heather Ridout

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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