Young people do not simply choose a career like their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have done for the past 70 years.
Many will find the concept of ‘career’ outdated and prefer having a ‘life’ or ‘family’ instead, according to Dr Jill Bogie, Director of Sustainability Initiatives for Africa at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS).
‘Additionally, they’re faced with the difficult job of stopping the changes to our planetary system which the current and past generations have created.’
‘What’s more, the people who will make the decisions that can shift us away from this cliff edge of the climate crisis are not even born yet. Their future jobs don’t yet exist,’ she says.
‘That’s the context to consider when talking about eco-inclusive careers.’
The big picture
With its high reliance on coal, rampant youth unemployment and other crises, South Africa could benefit from Dr Bogie’s systems thinking right now – or at least acknowledge how interconnected the destiny of our people, planet, and profits are.
Anybody who wants a career that won’t disappear because it’s phased out in the transition to cleaner energy and a circular economy must see the bigger picture.
‘To describe a career as “eco-inclusive” simply gives recognition to an interdependency that linear models cannot explain,’ says Anne Cabot-Alletzhauser, Practice Director of GIBS’ Responsible Finance Initiative.
‘Our environment, society and business are all part of an extremely complex system, where pulling a thread in one part can have massive, unpredictable consequences for other parts of the system.’
This means that it’s not enough for careers to be ‘eco’ or ‘green’ but they simultaneously need to be inclusive – by addressing what is referred to as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), a catch-all for issues of gender, race, age, disability and more.
Both Bogie and Cabot-Alletzhauser prefer ‘sustainability’ over ‘eco’ or ‘green’, as it better reflects the complexity of issues that young people must consider in their career choices.
Where to start?
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) developed a digital guide for 15- to 24-year-olds on sustainable career choices.
GEO-6 for Youth simplifies scientific jargon to explain the devastating state of the environment and gives young people ideas for future career fields.
For example, its section on the circular economy says, ‘The shift from a take-make-waste model to recycling, reuse, remanufacture, rental and longer durability of goods could create almost 6 million jobs [globally] by 2030.
This would mean shifting jobs from the mining and manufacturing sectors to durable product design, waste management (recycling) and services (repair, rent).’
‘Clearly, this all suggests a very different type of skillset will be required in the corporate, entrepreneurial and governmental domains of work,’ says Cabot-Alletzhauser.
Her suggestions as ‘obvious starting points’ for sustainable careers in South Africa include:
- Anything involving resources management (such as water, energy, agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining); Anything relating to healthcare and all its dimensions
- Anything that deals with the trade-off decisions that families or individuals must make to attain social mobility, financial stability and social protections (such as finance, insurance)
- Anything that might threaten the existence of humanity (such as information and communication tech)
This fits into the new economic sectors that President Ramaphosa highlighted in his 2023 State of the Nation Address, where he promised to create quality jobs in renewable energy, electric vehicles, green hydrogen, and related manufacturing.
Some of these areas are already experiencing an upswing in demand.
According to a 2022 LinkedIn report (which uses ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ interchangeably), the top five fastest-growing green jobs between 2016 and 2021 are sustainability manager (30% increase), wind turbine technician (24%), solar consultant (23%), ecologist (22%), and environmental health and safety specialist (20%).
Ranked 6, 7 and 8 are ‘greening’ jobs (those that are less specialised but still require a certain level of ‘green’ skills): compliance manager (19%), facilities manager (11%) and technical sales representative (8%).
A recent article in The Conversation found a tenfold jump in the number of global job ads with ‘sustainability’ in the title over the last decade.
‘The corporate world needs more than a few chief sustainability officers – it needs an army of employees, in all areas of business, thinking about sustainability in their decisions every day,’ say the authors.
‘That means product designers, supply managers, economists, scientists, architects, and many others with the knowledge to recognise unsustainable practices and find ways to improve sustainability for the overall health of their companies and the planet.’
Dr Bogie’s experience confirms this exploding demand, as her own LinkedIn profile increasingly attracts unsolicited sustainability-related job offers.
‘I believe every corporate job needs to be about sustainability,’ she says.
‘It’s not a choice of being in finance, marketing, IT, or sustainability – all jobs need to be about sustainability.’
Ultimately, young people can influence how the future unfolds through their job choices – but they will need the support of today’s decision-makers, whose ‘business as usual’ mindset is possibly the biggest risk to a sustainable future.