Future Graduate Skills: A Scoping Study – Introduction

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National and international carbon emission reduction targets, and the increased recognition of the importance of sustainable business practices, is driving the ‘greening’ of the UK economy. The UK government has pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and there is growing consumer and legislative pressure for businesses to increase their sustainability (Foerstl et al. 2014; UK Government 2019). Adapting current business and manufacturing practices will result in the redefinition of existing jobs, and the creation of new jobs and sectors (GHK 2009). The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP 2008) has warned that a shortage of skills and labour required for ‘green’ jobs could impede the growth of the green economy (UNEP 2008; Martinez-Fernandez et al. 2010).

To meet the requirements of the shift towards a low-carbon economy, it is thought there will need to be a significant change in the knowledge-base and skills of workers and employees across every sector of business. This includes hard skills (such as renewable engineering, emission reduction from production lines, carbon footprinting), and soft skills (such as systems thinking, reflexivity, and cross-sectoral working) (GHK 2009; Sandri et al. 2018). However, research by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS 2012) indicated that there is currently a lack of business managers and leaders who are ‘sustainability literate’. Further, businesses report that they are struggling to find candidates with the right sustainability skills to fit graduate positions, indicating a mismatch between the skills training available at university and the changing requirements of employers (e.g. Barton 2012; Arum and Roksa 2014; Calonge and Shah 2016).

In order to successfully achieve a net-zero economy, and also meet other sustainability goals such as pollution and waste reduction, reducing resource consumption, and fair wages and employment conditions, it is essential that businesses gain the sustainability knowledge and skills to enact the required changes. Addressing the ‘gap’ between graduate skills and employer demands is an important step in improving the sustainability of businesses across sectors. However, it is first necessary to define this skills gap by clarifying what ‘sustainability skills’ entail, which skills are in demand by employers, and what training is available to students or recent graduates.

Therefore, the purpose of this scoping study is to bring further understanding to the area of changing graduate requirements, graduate skills gaps, and sustainability skills. The results of this exploratory project will identify key areas for further research, and inform the development of future training frameworks. These results were informed by questionnaires and interviews with a range of key actors from different stakeholder groups, providing a wide scope of perspectives. The approach taken in the interviews was influenced by a review of academic and grey literature on the subject of sustainability skills, education for sustainable development, and skills gaps.

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