ESG, sustainability skills in demand as employers struggle to fill green jobs

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Numerous sectors are creating more green jobs, fuelled by the growth of sustainability-focused markets, said Dicky Leung, manager of construction, engineering and supply chain at recruitment firm Robert Walters.

Renewable energy is among the areas of expertise companies are searching for as they try to fill sustainability roles. Image: Shutterstock

“Quantifying the extent of green work can be challenging, leading to a gap between employer expectations and those of potential employees,” Leung said.

To bridge the knowledge and skills gap between fresh graduates and the requirements of sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) roles, Hong Kong’s Business Environment Council (BEC) organised the Green Jobs Fair with the Network of Environmental Student Societies (NESS) on January 24.

More than 100 students attended the fair, making it evident that youngsters are interested in a wide range of green job opportunities, said BEC CEO Simon Ng.

This includes roles ranging from renewable energy and waste management to green buildings, sustainable transport, corporate sustainability, green finance and other related fields.

“There is a high demand for professionals with skills and knowledge in the above areas, and companies are actively seeking candidates to fill such positions,” Ng said.

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The appetite for sustainability skills globally is outpacing supply by nearly two to one, according to LinkedIn’s Global Green Skills Report published last year.

Around the world, only one in eight workers has one or more green skills, according to the report.

Between 2022 and 2023, the share of green talent in the workforce rose by a median of 12.3 per cent, while the share of job postings requiring at least one green skill grew twice as quickly – by a median of 22.4 per cent, according to the report.

The pool of potential candidates may be small because of a lack of awareness of the opportunities and benefits of green jobs, according to Hays’ Smith.

“Efforts can be made to raise awareness about green jobs and their importance in sustainable development,” he said. “This can be done through educational campaigns, workshops and career fairs to attract more individuals to consider careers in the green sector.”

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Based on observations at the Green Jobs Fair and a survey conducted beforehand, participants were mostly looking for consulting or conglomerate-related green jobs such as in-house sustainability officer, ESG reporting consultant and project officer, said Mark Cheung, co-founder and executive director of NESS.

Environmental and sustainability analysts are projected to be in great demand, said Robert Walters’ Leung.

“These specialists evaluate their company’s ESG initiatives and identify opportunities to boost efficiency, foster positive societal impacts, and guarantee proper resource utilisation,” he said. “Their expertise spans sustainability reporting procedures and guidelines, corporate social responsibility, and data analysis.”

While green talent has surged in the market in recent years, it is still difficult to find skilled candidates who are well-versed in environmental policies, sustainability reporting processes and data analysis, Leung said.

“While it’s possible to find individuals with theoretical knowledge, employers often express that the challenge lies in determining whether these candidates can effectively implement ESG initiatives in practice,” he said.

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Due to the global trend towards ESG and decarbonisation, the market for green jobs is becoming increasingly competitive, according to Eddie Tse, group sustainability manager at Gammon Construction, which took part in the Green Jobs Fair.

“All … sectors are seeking individuals with ‘green’ knowledge, skills, and experience. This broad demand can make recruitment more challenging,” he said.

Gammon is actively seeking individuals with a specific set of hard and soft skills to meet the requirements of green jobs. These include communication and presentation skills, as well as relevant academic training, experience and technical qualifications and know-how, Tse said.

“The demand for such skills often exceeds the available supply, making recruitment efforts more competitive,” said Krisdean Law, director of corporate engagement at environmental group The Green Earth, which also took part in the fair. “Consequently, we constantly explore innovative ways to attract and retain top talent in this sector.”

The Green Earth prioritises individuals with a passion for nature and environmental protection, Law said. Knowledge of sustainable practices, environmental management and resource conservation are essential for the group to contribute to a greener future effectively, she added.

Universities and other education providers in Hong Kong also have a role to play.

“While some institutions offer relevant programmes, expansion is still needed to meet the increasing demand for skilled professionals in the green job market,” Law said. “Collaboration between industry and academia could play a vital role in bridging this gap.”

The green job market’s rapid expansion has outpaced the availability of skilled professionals, resulting in heightened competition among companies to attract and retain qualified candidates, according to Mark Harper, group head of sustainability at John Swire & Sons (HK). Swire also participated in the Green Jobs Fair.

“Finding individuals with the ideal mix of skills, experience, and cultural fit is becoming increasingly challenging,” said Harper. “At Swire we prize systemic thinking and having an innovative mindset as this enables us to find creative solutions to the complex sustainability challenges our businesses face.”

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