Labour skills to build Ireland’s green economy

8 Sep 2010

Sustainable development will require upskilling in green skills and technologies, according to Comhar SDC.

A report published by Comhar Sustainable Development Council (SDC) predicts that Ireland could encounter a skills shortage over the coming years if we move towards more sustainable development without training our workforce adequately in green skills and technologies. 
The report –Skills and Training for a Green New Deal – suggests significant jobs potential will exist in areas such as retrofitting of the existing housing stock and renewable energy. It says Ireland will need to produce more specialist graduates as well as honing the skills of the existing labour force to grasp the potential of the green economy.

Speaking today, Prof Frank Convery, chairperson of Comhar SDC, said: “In some cases, incentives designed to increase sustainable activity in the economy are insufficient to ensure that we have the skills to deliver such activity. 

“Businesses – particularly those operating on a small scale – do not have the resources to upgrade their employee skills to take advantage of a green wave. For this reason, green skills training must be integrated into existing programmes that are operating within the formal and informal education and training sectors.

“Unless a concerted effort is made to upskill our existing and prospective labour force, Ireland risks having a skills shortage scenario or – worse still – risks missing the potential boom that a green economy can offer,” he said.

Low-carbon, highly-efficient economy

Convery said upskilling our workforce and developing a strong stream of qualified graduates with green skills will be crucial in fulfilling Ireland’s green economy prospects.

“New training programmes for unemployed people should focus on increasing technical skills for renewable energy and specialised construction skills for large transport infrastructure projects, and skills for waste and water infrastructure.
“Traditional apprenticeship programmes need to be modified so that plumbers, electricians and builders have the knowledge and skills to install green technologies. Effectively, we need to start designing multi-disciplinary apprenticeships that cover new technologies. High-quality graduates, especially at PhD level, will also be required to work in areas relating to the generation, transmission and network management of electric power and also in the design and management of sustainable transport systems. Third-level institutions must adapt and reflect these emerging needs in their programmes,” said Convery.
According to the report, the National Energy Efficiency Retrofit Programme – which was introduced in the last budget to assist householders with retrofitting projects, such as insulation – is a good source of stimulation for green jobs, but it said the full potential of retrofitting is not being realised.
“In addition to upskilling for tradesmen, consumers also need to be educated about the benefits of energy efficiency, so that the market develops to grow green jobs,” he said.

Comhar SDC says that depending on the level of promotion of retrofitting, the number of jobs that could be created over the next decade could be in the region of 6,000 to 25,000. 

National grid

The report also points to the jobs potential that exists in the delivery of the new national grid. While it says that most of the organisations – such as ESB and Eirgrid – already have the skills required to deliver the grid, the report points to the potential for Ireland to become a global leader in managing electricity networks using high volumes of wind. 

“The renewable energy sector has the potential to produce thousands of jobs over the next decade and beyond.  If the Government actively pursues the 40pc target for electricity from renewable sources, we are talking about significant peaks of employment in the second half of this decade when the construction of major infrastructure is likely to take place.  To ensure we have the skills to meet those jobs, we need to start acting now,” said Convery.

The report has also called for specific training for the public service so it is equipped to manage green procurement, undertake carbon accounting, manage green infrastructure and understand the economics of sustainability.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic