A pivotal moment for the future of work

The global economy is in a period of major transition from traditional fossil fuel-based industries to more renewable and sustainable processes & accountability systems — what some call a “greening” of the economy. This transition is spurring innovation,  job creation, and both the opportunity and responsibility to embed more inclusive approaches into the hiring for fast growing “green” jobs. 

In that context, Autodesk FoundationLinkedIn, and Workday have been working together as part of a Just Transition Collaborative facilitated by NationSwell, with the shared goal to identify opportunities to accelerate more equitable pathways into green jobs by increasing the use of skill-based hiring. In an effort to catalyze collective impact, we are sharing key insights from our work here.

Focus and approach

The Just Transition Collaborative is focused on communities and regions most impacted by the shift from traditional fossil fuel to sustainable industries, guided by the concept of just transition: the notion that no one is left behind in the transition to a green economy. We are propelled by the shared belief that this economic paradigm shift presents a meaningful chance to help close the opportunity gap in America — by seizing the moment to rethink inequitable approaches to talent and training, and expand the use of more inclusive practices like skills-based hiring, particularly among communities that have traditionally been marginalized or experienced economic divestment.

We investigated key roles and workforce development practices in industries that sit at the crux of innovation and the creation of middle-skill green jobs: manufacturing, clean energy (solar power and electric vehicles, in particular), and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) compliance. By speaking directly with an ecosystem of stakeholders in Indigenous, Appalachian, and Midwestern communities that have the most to gain from support for more equitable career pathways, we were able to better understand the needs of job-seekers impacted by the economic transition, and identify ways in which funders in this space can help accelerate change. We heard from workforce development organizations (e.g., Navajo PowerCoalfield DevelopmentISAICThe Industrial CommonsStacks & JoulesTalent Ei), employers in greening industries (e.g., VehyaINCOGreenworkCDPPique ActionIndigenized Energy InitiativeJust Transition CentreCalifornia Labor Management Cooperation Committee) and job seekers on the skills-based hiring track (via Coalfield Development).

Think systemically, then get specific

Our research highlighted that skills-based hiring is only one piece of the inclusivity puzzle. More than anything, job seekers are looking for good jobs and opportunities to build their careers in a way that leads to long-term economic stability and overall health (e.g., comprehensive benefits packages, a safe and comfortable work environment). Both funders seeking to truly make a difference for the communities that have experienced many years of systemic inequity and economic disenfranchisement, and employers seeking to live up to their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) commitments, must move at the speed of trust and acknowledge the wider issues in play. Often, talent is kept out of pipelines for good “green” jobs due to financial inclusion gaps such as the drop in pay from traditional fossil fuel roles, the cost of credentialing, over-emphasis on seasonal infrastructure roles, and the lack of accessibility to entry-level roles. 

With systems in mind, funders must then be prepared to get specific: workforce development solutions need to be hyper-localized to the communities in which they’re located (e.g., considering local transportation needs, workforce development networks, and specific recruitment ecosystems.) Specificity matters, even when it comes to language: we found that messaging focused on “green”, “low carbon”, and “sustainable” opportunities can lack resonance with key stakeholders who are more focused on honing their craft and securing their future.  

Building on this context, the Just Transition Collaborative uncovered three key insights that can guide more effective funding in this space. 

1. From job pathways to hiring ecosystems

Insight: Opaque pathways
Pathways into these types of “green” roles are opaque and often include many barriers to entry, including the need for academic qualifications or expensive credentials. Additionally, as industries emerge and evolve, new roles do not have standardized job descriptions and skill requirements. The lack of unified definition means that it’s difficult for skills providers to get funding and for job seekers to know how to gain access to those roles. Thus, sticking to traditional hiring routes (e.g., your own site, specific job boards) will not reach the widest talent pool, because many potential hires don’t know where to look or don’t think they qualify for the roles.

Solution: Hiring ecosystems
Businesses have success in reaching underserved talent by partnering with community and workforce development organizations with no barriers to entry as part of their hiring process. For example, Stacks & Joules has an Advisory Board of employers whereby they track relationships and how the trainee’s skills are matching industry needs. These partnerships are usually hyper-local, allowing the business to tap into and support the community nearby from a place of authenticity.Unions are also a vital and integrated source of training and quality jobs for job seekers, so funders seeking to make change in this space should consider how to help include local union representatives in any skills-based hiring ecosystem,  to ensure there are not two separate pipelines of talent development (unionized and non-unionized) that are competing for resources and opportunities.

2. Skills built and applied

Insight: Experience needed
Employers for the middle-skill roles seek and value on-the-job experience, and in practice they often will not hire entry-level talent without at least five years of experience. Plus, the field is so fast-moving that some certifications that prospective talent are obtaining through credentialing programs are not able to keep up with the real needs that businesses have.

Solution: Applied learning
Some workforce development organizations have innovated to offer talent not just skills training, but also on-the-job experience, ensuring that talent have the skills that matches pace with industry innovation and the experience that employers are looking for. Innovative organizations like Coalfield Development partner with other businesses to provide career pipelines once trainees have completed their programs, and facilitate connections with community leaders committed to hiring people who face barriers to employment.

3. Support doesn’t stop on day one

Insight: Barriers beyond hiring
One of the key barriers to underserved talent growing in these careers is the lack of ongoing support that acknowledges their life circumstances. Free workforce development placements can be successful in getting people into the jobs, but often lose them due to practical challenges faced by talent with little to no safety net (e.g., like lack of reliable transportation, or not having access to affordable childcare).

Solution: Ongoing support
New human-centered models are being created that are intentional about creating the space and support that underserved talent needs in order to thrive. For example, the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center (ISAIC), is committed to the wellbeing & professional growth of their team: each employee has a unique career path with mandatory and elective training, guided by a coach that is updated annually since people’s interests evolve over time. Acknowledging that their employees also have their own entrepreneurial aspirations and life priorities, ISAIC also gives employees access to the organization’s time (‘Learning Fridays’), space and resources to focus on personal needs. This holistic, talent-centric approach to development and support helps more people to grow in their careers and is good for business too — reducing turnover costs through increased retention and internal promotion.

How funders can help create more inclusive pathways into “green” jobs

Based on our insights, we believe there are four smart ways that funders can help to ensure that a more inclusive and holistic approach to talent hiring and development — including increasing use of skills based hiring — is recognized and practiced as an effective approach to building a talent pipeline within fast growing “green” industries:

    Connecting your network to catalyze local ecosystems of employers, workforce development organizations and (ideally) unions, who can work together to find and support talent to gain the skills they need to thrive in fast growing industries.
    Helping expand access for talent to get both skills training and on-the-job experience, particularly in areas where experience is required (explicitly or implicitly) and the industry skills required are evolving fast.
    Offering the support needed to scale social enterprises and other talent development partners who can work with employers to provide wrap-around support for talent — including ongoing development opportunities and the space, time and money to allow for changes in circumstances.
    Work with your public policy and government relations teams to campaign and drive support for policy that provides adequate public sector funding for workforce development programming, modernized labor market reporting to identify in-demand roles, workers with paid time to develop their skills, and emergency cash relief to give more people the security they need to grow their career, and incentives for employer-based training and workforce partnerships; with a particular focus on low income communities most impacted by the transition to the green economy.

NationSwell Collaboratives build cross-sector coalitions of leaders and experts to advance specific impact priorities, by enabling open collaboration, learning, and cooperation, that breaks down silos and puts equity at the heart of solution-building.