Green jobs and corporate climate pledges abound, but skilled sustainability professionals are scarce.
A new report from Microsoft and the Boston Consulting Group on “closing the sustainability skills gap” found that 57% of sustainability professionals lacked a sustainability-related degree, and that more than 40% had no more than three years of sustainability experience.
“The historical importance and current breadth of the sustainability skilling challenge are difficult to overstate,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s vice chair and president, writes in the report. “The creation of a net-zero planet will require that sustainability science spreads into every sector of the economy.”
The job opportunities are increasing: Green jobs grew 8% per year between 2016 and 2021, according to the LinkedIn Green Jobs report. But the talent pool lagged, only growing at 6%, according to LinkedIn. Scientists are leaving academia and engineers are leaving Big Tech in order to work on climate tech, but that might not be enough to fill the widening gap.
According to the Microsoft report, more than two-thirds of sustainability leaders were internal hires. Out of a list of the 10 most commonly held jobs prior to becoming sustainability managers, four (business operation roles, program manager, quality assurance manager, and customer service representative) were unrelated to sustainability. Yet “talented insiders” without formal training are not a sustainable talent pool, the report argues.
Data and digital skills, sustainability-specific competencies such as carbon accounting and reporting, and transformational skills — including broad stakeholder management and culture and change management — were the major skill areas that sustainability pros need, the report found.
But more work is needed from employers, governments, and educational institutions to identify and fill these skills gaps, both in the current workforce and at schools: including K-12, college, vocational programs, and apprenticeships. The report outlines a three-part action plan, including initiatives Microsoft itself is undertaking.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misdated the first year that green job growth was tracked. This story was updated on Nov. 2, 2022.