Planning a career is a risky business these days; in times of rapid technological change and fiscal uncertainty there's no guarantee the career you embarked on will exist as an occupation in the future, or will be so radically different as to be unrecognisable. It seems a safe bet, however, that the burgeoning 'green job' market will continue to rise as the urgency to mitigate the effects of climate change becomes ever more pressing. Tertiary institutes around the world are coming to the fore to provide the skills needed for this brave new world.
The momentum behind the green revolution in the job market is building year on year. But how big are these job opportunities in New Zealand, and how best can we train up our workforce to make the most of them?
When the beliefs of the individual workers blend with those of the organisation, it is good for the worker, the business and the economy. Employment surveys from around the world demonstrate that the most highly qualified and skilled people want to work for something they can believe in and feel good about, and all of us work better when this is the case, with environmental sustainability and ethical business being high up on the list of concerns.
There is also now an obvious business case for wanting to do the right thing by the environment and our future. Sustainable business has come to mean just that, since it is becoming clear that organisations that don't help to address the risks posed by the twin challenges of global resource depletion and climate change will not survive long into the future that is coming.
The Sustainable Business Network now has 500 member companies. Rachel Brown, the network's CEO, says: "We have seen a growth in employees asking for sustainability commitment from the businesses they are seeking to work with. Companies must compete for the best talent, and potential employees are basing at least some of their decisions on the organisations' sustainability stance, including whether their actual actions match their stated sustainability vision."
These lines of work, which now include cleantech, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, new economics and more, are often highly specialised, competitive and fast-moving occupations. So whether you are about to enter the job market, or are looking to change the job you do to one that sits better with your conscience, you are going to need some training.
Brown says: "We are also seeing a growth in interesting new businesses that are gearing up for the new sustainability-oriented futures. They are looking for smart people who 'get them' and who can help build successful business models with them. I believe there is a skills gap here - and a good opportunity to develop training programmes targeting youth so that they can take on these roles in our businesses."
Green jobs in the future?
While the current government has placed a heavy focus on the potential of creating something like 5500 new jobs from opening up new offshore oil fields and a few hundred more to add to the 6500 employed in mining on shore, there are others researching how more jobs could be created by taking a sustainable path.
Business-led campaign group Pure Advantage has said its research, completed by The University of Auckland and London-based consultants Vivid Economics, suggests that with proper investment almost 30,000 jobs could be created in areas such as the geothermal and bioenergy industries.
Other studies also suggest that renewable energy sources create more jobs than fossil fuels if the appropriate investment and focus is provided. For example, in 2012 Greenpeace commissioned modelling from energy market analysts at the Institute of Technical Thermodynamics of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) on how New Zealand could make the shift to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050. The results suggested that this could create something like 25,000 jobs across the clean energy sector. Meanwhile, Wellington based economists Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL) has said that just developing liquid fuels from forestry could help create a bioenergy sector that will generate up to 27,000 jobs.
A regional perspective on this is also provided by A View to the South, a BERL report commissioned last year by WWF-New Zealand. It modelled four different scenarios for the Southern Region focusing on forestry, horticulture, manufacturing and engineering, and education and training, as alternatives to investment in fossil fuel production. It found potential to increase employment in all of them, forecasting that greater investment in forestry and wood processing alone could create 1180 full-time jobs within the next 15 years, over and above business as usual growth. There could also be 820 new jobs in engineering, 755 in education and training, and 540 jobs in the horticulture sector.
Perhaps the most ambitious claims of all come from The Green Party, which claims its Green Jobs policy can create 100,000 new jobs. If they can get the power to push this through, they intend to direct government investment in housing, ensure state-owned energy companies capture export opportunities in the worldwide renewable sector and incentivise the creation of green jobs in the private sector.
This includes a ramp-up of the Heat Smart home insulation programme to roll it out to another 200,000 homes over the next three years. This will cost $350 million and employ 4000 people directly, which the Party estimates will provide something like 10,000 jobs in knock-on benefits.
The Party would retain ownership of state-owned enterprises and incentivise them to partner with cleantech entrepreneurs in the private sector and develop renewable energy solutions that can be patented and exported abroad. The suggestion is that if New Zealand could capture just one per cent of the global market for renewable energy solutions, it would create a $6 to $8 billion export industry employing 47,000 - 65,000 people in new green jobs. This will be backed by sustainable government procurement policies, tax incentives, start-up funding, and a $1 billion investment in research and development funding, to step up and drive new job creation in the cleantech sector.
Change is also coming in the community and social sector. Louise Parkin is managing director of Wellington-based Execucare, which helps source fundraising and marketing staff for New Zealand's 25,000 charitable and fundraising organisations.
"Ever since we have started there has been a massive demand. There are endless amounts of people wanting to make the transition to make a difference in their daily work, and they are often highly qualified. The challenge is gaining the experience and the specific skills required."
This is just a small taste of the quantity of the employment opportunities that these great changes are bringing with it. It is harder to forecast the almost incalculable improvements in quality of life our success could bring to this country as a whole, and the personal satisfaction for every individual worker who could confidently say they had helped to bring this about.
On course for a brighter future?
New Zealand's education system is gearing up to help meet the challenges of employment in a more environmentally conscious age. To take just a few examples, AUT university has just launched a new Bachelor of Business course in Sustainable Enterprise, with papers including climate change and emissions strategies, environmental monitoring and risk assessment, ecotourism and design and innovation for sustainability. And the Faculty of Science at The University of Auckland is working on setting up a Sustainable Built Environments Research Centre, to develop research and teaching in these new forms of architecture. Meanwhile, a search of the papers on offer at Massey University reveals 2,014 featuring 'sustainability': from business and sustainability to chemistry and nanoscience, including several papers looking specifically at these issues from the perspective of Maori culture, history and approaches to environmental management. Smaller tertiary education facilities are also playing their part. Waiaraki Institute of Technology has courses in sustainable energy, biofuels, conservation and biodiversity and more.
But perhaps one of the educational organisations that has gone furthest down this track is Lincoln University which, as a specialist 'land-based' university, is actively building its future and focusing its investments on the need to meet the challenges climate change and resource depletion poses for feeding the world.
Lincoln University has recently overhauled its entire curriculum to what it sees as a new world order, and in response to what it sees as the major challenges to humankind.
Assistant Vice Chancellor Jeremy Baker explains: "Taking into account our core focus as a land-based university, we have asked what that means in the context of the world we are likely to be living in. Climate change, a population of 10 billion people by mid century, massive increase in wealth, demand for food - in particular for animal proteins, land grabs, environmental degradation, water shortages."
The university's response has been to introduce three common courses to all its students. First year students all take a course which gives a broad introduction to the issues the world faces, while another course upskills students in the fields of research, communications and statistical capability. In second year, students from different faculties are brought together into small groups and asked to solve a particular issue, bringing together the skills and expertise from their respective specialisations.
Baker believes the impact that Lincoln graduates can have is huge. "Around 20% of our total workforce works in land-based sectors - 120,000 working physically on the land, but also 115,000 working in processing the products off the land. Tourism, hospitality, sport and recreation accounts for another 116,000 and also 100,000 work in infrastructural sectors - planning, infrastructure, banking etc - much of which is tied to land; another 40,000 support scientific and technical groups - which accounts for almost half a million people."
The global rise of the green job
• Two recent Canadian studies found that about 70% of employees want to work for companies that commit to social and community concerns and would consider changing jobs if their employers did not operate in a socially responsible manner.
• In a recent US survey more than three quarters of respondents indicated that a company's commitment to social issues is important when deciding where to work.
• Two studies of US MBA students found one in four of them expressed more interest in finding work that offers the potential of making a contribution to society, and that they would sacrifice an average of US$13,700 in salary to work for a socially responsible company.
• A 2002 GlobeScan International survey showed that 80% of people who worked for a large company felt greater motivation and loyalty towards their jobs and companies the more socially responsible their employers became.
• According to author Julia Moulden, in We are the New Radicals: A Manifesto for Reinventing Yourself and Saving the World 75% of the 'Baby Boomer' generation want to keep working and of that number 60% want to make a 'positive difference'.
'Element magazine' then to either 'green living' (lifestyle), 'sustainable business' or 'environment'. There is also other classifications such as 'climate change' and clean technology'.