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How reskilling Asia’s workforce can secure a more sustainable future

South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)
Syed Munir Khasru
April 12, 2024


As the world increasingly embraces renewable energy sources and sustainable practices, a new and dynamic sector has emerged: green jobs. These positions span a diverse array of industries from solar power to sustainable forestry. They are not only vital for addressing the pressing challenges of climate change but are also a driving force in the transformation of the global labour pool.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency and International Labour Organization, Asia dominated the global renewable energy employment landscape in 2021, accounting for two-thirds of the jobs while the United States represented 21 per cent and Europe 12 per cent. China in particular had 42 per cent of the global total of renewable energy jobs, underscoring the region’s leadership in this rapidly growing sector.

This impressive figure is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years, with employment in renewable energy projected to exceed 38 million by 2030. The solar photovoltaic industry employs about 4.9 million people, while wind power accounts for 1.4 million jobs. Other key green job sectors in the region include hydropower, biofuels and the emerging decentralised renewable energy market.

The sheer scale of this workforce transformation underscores the critical importance of developing a skilled labour force capable of supporting Asia’s energy transition. As the demand for renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable practices continues to rise, employers are seeking workers with specialised technical skills and a deep understanding of environmental stewardship and sustainability.

China, a global leader in renewable energy, invested a staggering US$546 billion in clean energy in 2022, far surpassing the US. This commitment has not only created vast job opportunities across the sector but has also driven the upskilling of individuals, empowering them with the necessary expertise for the transition towards sustainable energy solutions.

In India, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with Germany to establish nationwide vocational training programmes on renewable energy, e-mobility, energy efficiency and more.

To meet this rise in demand, educational institutions, training providers and policymakers across Asia must work in tandem with the rest of world to develop comprehensive workforce development programmes. These initiatives should span a wide range of disciplines, from technical vocational training for renewable energy technicians and installers to higher education programmes in engineering, environmental science and sustainable business practices.
At the higher education level, universities across Asia are expanding their course offerings and degree programmes to align with the skills needed in the sustainable energy transition. In Japan, for example, the Tokyo Institute of Technology has launched innovative engineering programmes focused on renewable energy systems and smart grid technologies, preparing the next generation of green-collar professionals to drive the country’s decarbonisation efforts.

Beyond technical training, reskilling and upskilling opportunities will be equally important, especially for workers transitioning from traditional fossil fuel industries. As Asian economies accelerate their shift away from coal and other carbon-intensive sectors, governments and employers are implementing comprehensive retraining initiatives to help displaced workers adapt their skills for the growing green economy.

Governments across Asia have a crucial role to play in driving the growth of green jobs and supporting the development of a skilled workforce for the sustainable energy transition. Through targeted incentives, funding and policy initiatives, policymakers in the region are creating the necessary conditions for businesses, educational institutions and workers to thrive in the sustainable economy.

For example, South Korea’s Green New Deal programme under the Korean New Deal has provided substantial tax credits and subsidies for companies investing in renewable energy job training. Meanwhile, the transition to renewable energy is opening up opportunities for women in Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, the Department of Energy has provided energy companies with a gender mainstreaming toolkit to increase women’s participation in renewable energy systems.

By investing in the development of a green workforce, Asian nations can not only address the pressing issues of climate change but also unlock a wealth of economic benefits. These positions offer competitive salaries, opportunities for advancement and the chance to be at the forefront of the clean energy revolution.

Moreover, the growth of green jobs is not limited to specialised technical roles. Rather, it spans a wide range of industries and occupations, from marketing and human resources to urban planning and waste management.

The green economy holds the potential to create many well-paying, highly skilled jobs that can support families, strengthen communities and drive sustainable economic development across Asia. However, realising this potential will require a concerted effort from policymakers, employers, educators and workers to build a workforce that is technically proficient and deeply committed to environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

As the global economy shifts towards renewable energy and more sustainable practices, green jobs will be essential for powering a just and equitable energy transition in Asia. By equipping workers with the necessary skills, the region can unlock immense opportunities to create a cleaner, greener world. Through strategic investments in workforce development programmes, Asian nations can build a highly skilled, environmentally conscious labour force to drive sustainable transformation across industries.

Moreover, by fostering diversity and inclusion in green job opportunities, policymakers and employers can ensure the benefits of the clean energy revolution are distributed equitably, empowering marginalised communities. As Asia looks to the future, the continued growth of green jobs will be a cornerstone for building a more prosperous, resilient and sustainable regional economy which outpaces the progress seen in developed countries.

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