Green skills: Making today’s youth future-ready

Green skills: Making today’s youth future-ready

Maha Al Qattan, Group Chief Sustainability Officer | Maha AlQatta - Group Chief Sustainability Officer

Pressure is mounting on businesses to adopt greener practices as we approach global net zero targets. But are our employees equipped to help us achieve these goals?

Some industries, notably automotive, are hesitant to transition to greener operations too fast for fear of losing traditionally skilled labourers. Yet 58% of employees are considering leaving jobs where they feel their employer doesn’t share their sustainability values, with 69% wanting to work for someone with high ethical standards and practices. Meanwhile, new generations entering the workforce don’t feel equipped with the skillsets to support greener industries (no matter how much they’d love to work for them).

We have two problems here: industries lack staff with green skills to make a sustainable transition viable, yet demand is growing to fill these greener roles.

Young people can address these gaps in the workforce in the long term and introduce new, valuable ideas to how we operate as industries – but only if we create opportunities for them to learn these new skills. This is the UN’s focus for this year’s International Youth Day – and the first step to making this possible is to review the state of global education.

A lesson in equality

As it stands, 880 million children lack the ‘green skills’ required to succeed in the workforce by 2030, from science, technology and maths (STEM) to digitalisation. Girls are at the greatest disadvantage; 129 million young women don’t even attend school while only 49% of countries offer equal education opportunities for all genders.

Equitable quality education should be a business priority when it comes to sustainability. The lack of girls in education generally, let alone in fields such as STEM, is already causing a global productivity and earnings deficit of nearly £30 trillion annually. The less widespread good education is, the less equipped we are to tackle rising climate challenges in our locales. For the world’s developing regions, who are often most vulnerable to climate change fallout, this is paramount.

As global business leaders, we have the financial and influential power to change educational opportunities everywhere for the better. As we need curriculums to adapt specifically to serve our industries, it makes sense for us to be the driving force in this transformation.

Take the energy industry – arguably the most heavily impacted sector in the sustainable transition. The International Labour Organisation estimates that 100 million jobs could be generated for sustainable energy and the circular economy. Currently, companies believe that 40% of workers will need to be reskilled to serve these roles and 94% of employers will expect employees to pick up new skills on the job.

But what if we could gift future generations these skills as part of their normal education before they reach the workplace? That way, we would make sustainability a set behaviour rather than a hurdle for businesses to overcome.

Making education work

How, then, can companies positively influence global education to lock in more value through gender parity and secure the future of sustainable business practices?

Making education a pillar of your business strategy is a way I have found companies can sustain these efforts in such a way that serve their own long-term goals while making a life-changing impact for those who need them most.

At DP World, we’ve broken our education strategy into three parts:

  1. Access to Education: defined by investments in educational infrastructure, scholarships and resources.
  2. Industry Exposure: demonstrating how STEM, green skills and digital skills fit into industry and why they’re necessary.
  3. Skills of the Future: creating opportunities for students to apply these skills through work experience, internships and career workshops.

These focus areas give us a step-by-step approach to resolving the education access barrier, implementing more opportunities for students to learn the skills that we and other major industries will need. And, importantly, our approach seeks to make STEM, digitalisation and the skills needed for a greener future inspirational.

For the first area, we launched the Global Education Programme. We collaborate with local schools in Africa, Asia and other developing nations where educational access is lowest to curate targeted curriculums for boys and girls between 8 and 14 years old. Alongside traditional education, this creates an avenue to inspire these young minds about the shipping transport logistics industry. Through STEM and digital classes, we then arm them with the green skills they need to pursue those careers and make a positive impact.

This leads us to our second focus area: Industry Exposure. The more children we bring into the education system, the more creative minds we can welcome to events such as The Big Tech Project. Inviting STEM students from the UAE, our competition gave aspiring young people the chance to think creatively about how new technologies can solve real-world problems facing our industry. For example: the winning idea was an innovative use of the metaverse to simulate training and operations so we could reduce time, cost and safety risks for new starters and employees. 

The competitors could apply their learnings and have the chance to see how their solutions would work in the context of our operations. We, meanwhile, had the benefit of hearing new, innovative perspectives and scouting some promising talent into our business.

As for Skills of the Future, I see this as making it easier for the next generation to penetrate the industries that need their valuable skill sets. Our 20XEL programme is a talent accelleration programme for fresh Emirati graduates in the UAE, allowing them to experience life at our business and hone their aptitude and ideas professionally. By familiarising themselves with our business over this period, applicants can be strategic with their knowledge and accelerate sustainable change in a practical, beneficial way.

Power of partnerships

Where companies lack the might to implement their own initiatives, partnerships can provide as much (if not more) power to change what’s possible for education. And, when done right, they can be targeted to address sustainability challenges for the wider community, not just industry.

Earlier this year I took part in UNICEF’s Upshift programme in Bosnia & Herzegovina, which invites young people to strategise solutions to problems facing their community – many of which are sustainability and education-focused. Similarly, our Roots & Shoots partnership with Jane Goodall supports children in imagining practical solutions to the world’s environmental challenges. Some of the most successful projects from this partnership include using oyster shells for coral restoration and an urban farming project that reduces the carbon footprint of everyday food items.  

Making education accessible and valuable for our future needs is essential for the future of our industries and our world. As global players, we are in a unique position to make this a reality and improve peoples’ lives as well as how we operate as businesses. And by reimagining how the next generation learns at the early stages, we can make a sustainable existence a way of life.