Back 09.01.2023

The transition to a carbon-neutral circular economy requires new skills

Entire industries are changing towards a low-carbon circular economy, creating a need for new skills. Sustainability and circular economy issues are becoming an integral part of job descriptions, requiring both new content specific knowledge and strong interpersonal skills to enable cooperation between experts from different sectors. In our study for the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, we looked at the knowledge impacts of the circular economy transition in the chemical, construction and technology sectors.

In circular economy, materials and products are used as efficiently as possible for as long as possible. The whole life cycle of a product is considered at the design stage, and consumption is based on borrowing, repair and recycling. Decoupling economic growth from overconsumption of natural resources also addresses other pressing sustainability challenges of our time, such as climate change and tackling biodiversity loss. At the same time, circular economy unlocks new business opportunities.

In addition to the obvious opportunities, the circular economy is also subject to uncertainties arising from rapid changes in the business environment. New ways of working will change entire industries and will also be reflected in job descriptions. Jobs will both be created and lost, and the content of most jobs will change.

In our study for Sitra, we examined the knowledge impacts of the circular economy in the chemical, construction and technology sectors. All three sectors are at the heart of the carbon-neutral circular economy transition, either through the solutions they produce or through the size of the sector. Circular economy already affects the skills needs in the sectors studied. New skills include the processing and sourcing of recycled raw materials, circular economy design and the facilitation of new forms of cross-sectoral collaboration.

Although the job content will change, the job titles are expected to remain largely unchanged. The main requirements will continue to be related to the basic skills of each sector, but additional task-specific circular economy skills will be required more often. The necessary skills can be acquired through learning on-the-job or by formal training. Task descriptions are expanding, and teams combining diverse skills and cooperation between different actors will become more common in the future. Digital skills are at the heart of circular economy transition and will be needed across all sectors and in almost every job.

Small and large companies are in different positions to seize the opportunities of the circular economy and competition for talent is fierce. Active dialogue between different companies and sectors and the use of employees’ ideas and skills will enable a fair transition to circular economy. Gaia has the know-how and experience to support companies in their journey towards circular economy. The previous projects include, for example, support in developing new circular economy business models and advice on the facilitation of different circular economy pilots and clusters.

Public Sector, S&I Policy, Organisational Sustainability, International Cooperation, Network and Stakeholder Cooperation