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Indian companies want green-skilled professionals. But education system is yet to catch up

The global shift towards green economies means that companies are offering more ‘green jobs’. But academics say that India’s educational institutions aren’t meeting the demand. 

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New Delhi: The conversation about climate change is making a global shift towards a greener economy and emergence of related jobs inevitable, but the Indian education system is still unprepared to make this transition, according to academics and experts.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, former US vice-president Al Gore called renewable energy the “cheapest source of electricity” while UN Secretary-General António Guterres brought back the focus to climate risk, saying the world was flirting with an impending climate disaster. 

Back home, on 15 August 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the National Hydrogen Mission, a policy that aims at promoting green hydrogen in a bid to cut emissions and to make India a major exporter in the field in the next 25 years. 

First announced in the 2021-22 Union Budget, the scheme was seen by many as an opportunity to create 6 lakh “green jobs” — employment opportunities that can contribute to preserving or restoring the environment. 

Despite this decided shift towards green jobs across the world, market experts and educators claim that for India at least, the demand currently outweighs supply.

Experts believe that to match the growing demand, Indian educational institutions need to equip their students better. And, this means designing their curriculum to focus on climate tech and sustainability. 

“The supply of talent in this industry is less than the demand growth at this point in time. And I think that there is a need for universities to create special programmes for this or embed some part of the attributes of these types of skill sets in their regular programme so that people become more rounded professionals,” Shantanu Rooj, the founder of TeamLease Edtech, an ancillary of TeamLease, one of India’s biggest providers of human resource services, told ThePrint.

The gap is considerable. According to Rooj, in the financial year 2021-2022, 1.3 lakh people were employed in the green sector as against 1 lakh the year before. This is only 60 per cent of the actual demand, he said.

Rooj added that the number of “green jobs” could be as many as 24 lakhs by 2030 — a major reason why, according to him, institutions should consider reinventing curriculum.

Also Read: In a historic first, rich countries will pay for losses and damages caused by climate change

Rise in green jobs 

There’s been a substantial increase in the number of green jobs the world over. According to a joint report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency and the International Labour Organisation, India created 8,63,000 green jobs in 2020-21. 

Globally, 12.7 million green jobs were generated in 2020-2021, the report said.

Similarly, a report by LinkedIn found that of 100 entrepreneurs in India, two are highly skilled in green. The report, released in February last year, also found that the “green talent” in the workforce worldwide rose from 9.6 per cent in 2015 to 13.3 per cent in 2021 (a growth rate of 38.5 per cent).

In terms of “green-intense” jobs, India ranked fifth in the global metric, it showed. 

Likewise, “sustainability manager” made it to LinkedIn’s latest report on 25 fastest-growing jobs, published on 18 January. It becomes crucial, therefore, that educational institutions catch up to this trend. 

According to Rooj, while only a few private institutions have started specific programmes for such job profiles, most of the mainstream public education system needs to catch up.

There are, of course, universities that offer courses on environment and sustainability. For instance, the Bengaluru-based Azim Premji University has a course called ‘Exploring Sustainability in the Indian Context’ that teaches students how to formulate sustainable action plans taking into account the cultural, social, and economic dimensions of local ecosystems. 

Another such institution is Gujarat University’s Indian Institute of Sustainability, which offers courses focusing on action-based models to ensure development with sustainability.

But, most educational institutions are yet to institute full-fledged programmes focusing on climate action. For instance, while the elite IITs offer courses on Biotechnology and related sciences, they don’t have ones that focus on sustainability.

Miniya Chatterji, the director of the Centre for Sustainability and Anant Fellowship for Climate Action at the Anant National University in Ahmedabad, believes that merely adding some ancillary subjects to a university’s catalogue will no longer suffice and that it’s time to have schools dedicated to climate action. 

The privately-owned Anant National University claims to have started first-of-its-kind undergraduate, postgraduate and doctorate courses in climate action and offers a fellowship as well. 

“Simply adding some courses on environment or sustainability will no longer cut it,” she said. “Professionals trained in carbon accounting, sustainability management, and tech will be required to help companies achieve their sustainability targets.”

The demand for green education is being reflected in a spurt in online courses, too.  US-based open online course provider Coursera told ThePrint that its programmes on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) have picked up over the last year.  

ESG is a term used to describe a framework that will help investors understand sustainable and ethical impacts of an organisation.

According to Coursera, its courses on Introduction to Sustainability (University of Illinois), From Climate Science to Action, First Steps in Making the Business Case for Sustainability  (University of Colorado), Strategy and Sustainability  (IESE Business School) have seen a 35 to 100 per cent jump in enrollment in 2022 as compared to the previous year. 

The government, too, is focused on creating a green-skilled workforce. A report by New Delhi-based public policy think-tank Council of Energy, Environment and Water in January 2022 said India could potentially create about 3.4 million short- and long-term jobs if it completes its plan of installing 238 GW solar and 101 GW wind capacity to achieve its targeted 500 GW non-fossil electricity generation by 2030. 

In 2015, the ministries of skill development and entrepreneurship and new and renewable energy jointly set up the Skill Council for Green Jobs (SCGJ) to create a curriculum and assessment standards, and to train the available workforce in green skills. 

Last February, the Modi government set up a portal under the SCGJ to help boost employment in the sector of green energy.

SCGJ chief executive officer P. Saxena said given India’s plan of shifting to hydrogen as the main source of energy by 2030, an additional 6 lakh skilled manpower would be required.

“In order to make sure that the country has plenty of such skilled workers, we plan to set up 10 centers of excellence and set up collaborations with colleges, universities where such courses are taught. We’ll also identify and create 40 new qualifications for white and blue-collared jobs,” he told ThePrint.

Members of the Council said in the last seven years, the SCGJ trained over 1 lakh technicians in the sector of solar power and over 5 lakh workers in waste management. This is mainly blue-collared jobs, but Council members told ThePrint that there’s still a dearth of trainers to train white-collared professionals. 

The need for green entrepreneurs

According to the SCGJ members, India is in need of entrepreneurs “who can innovate in the fields of renewable energy”. Currently, most of the technology was borrowed from the West, they said.

According to government data released in 2022, of the 72,993 start-ups under the Start-Up India initiative, over 3,300 recognised ones were working in climate action sectors by providing solutions through renewable energy and green technology. 

However, this number looks insufficient, especially in light of the estimated investment in the green sector. A report by Boston Consulting Group published in April last year showed that investment in India’s green tech sector is expected to increase to $45-55 billion by 2027.

A 2021 report by Impact Investors Council, Climate Collective, and consultants Arete Advisors said that between 2016 and 2020, the largest investments in India’s green tech sector were in sectors of sustainable mobility — 84 deals worth $705 million.

This was followed by energy (including clean energy generation from new feedstocks, energy access, energy storage, and energy optimisation products) at 44 deals worth $301 million. 

Entrepreneurs that ThePrint spoke to believe that although environmental values have a positive impact on the success of green entrepreneurial activities, it’s innovative thinking that forms the crux of a business idea. 

Simply replicating American and European green tech advancements at a lower cost is not the way forward — what’s required is a more country-specific problem-solving approach, entrepreneurs say.

Delhi-based start-up Sheru founder Ankit Mittal said green tech entrepreneurs need to have nuanced specialisation in the field of economics, environment, and sustainability along with science and technology. 

Mittal, whose start-up provides cloud storage for batteries used in electric vehicles, believes although the government is “forward thinking” in terms of green tech entrepreneurship, an “environment to innovate” has to be provided to schoolchildren to help push innovation. 

“To give a push to such kind of entrepreneurship, the Indian education system will have to invest in providing labs and spaces for innovation to schoolchildren so that they can develop solution-based prototypes at an early age.” 

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: War to climate change—tech diplomacy can tackle global challenges. India must lead from front


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