Future Graduate Skills: A Scoping Study – Literature Review

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This review includes academic literature on the subject of ‘sustainability skills’ (also referred to as ‘green skills’, ‘sustainability competencies’, and ‘sustainability literacy’. It also reviews grey literature such as reports, policy statements and web pages from university websites. As well as academic and grey literature, job descriptions and requirements were also included in the identification of ‘sustainability skills’. On two UK-based environmental job advertisement websites (Environmental Jobs 2019 and Environment Jobs 2019), a search was made for graduate or entry level jobs with the search term ‘sustainability’. Eight roles that met these criteria were available on the former, and three on the latter. The job requirements listed for each role will also be used to inform this review.


The purpose of this literature review is to identify themes across academic and grey literature regarding the graduate sustainability skills gap. This covered the various definitions of ‘sustainability skills’ by different stakeholders, including soft skills and technical knowledge. It also identified that, although businesses appear to discuss or diagnose the ‘skills gap’ more frequently than HEIs, many universities provide both intra- and extra-curricular sustainability skills training and workshops. There was, however, an inequality or disparity in the incorporation of ESD across different disciplines.

Of the literature cited, 19 references are five or more years old, while 10 of these are at least a decade old. In contrast, only 15 references discussing the skills gap have been published in the last five years (although this does not include the university and students’ union websites referenced). This indicates that the graduate skills gap in relation to sustainability was identified over a decade ago, and has been discussed by various groups and stakeholders since. Some progress has been made towards equipping graduates with the skills required for sustainability roles and the green growth of the UK economy, for instance through ESD incorporated into course material by some universities. However, there remains a gap in the skillset of graduates, both in terms of sustainability knowledge and skills, and general employability and workplace skills.

Collaboration between education and industry in the provision of training, creation of internships, and the development of ESD curricula, was frequently cited as an important and necessary step to close the graduate sustainability skills gap. Both HEIs and employers can separately provide training on sustainable development. However, industry-supported workshops in universities can reach greater numbers of students than those hosted by businesses, and industry input into intra-curricula ESD can ensure that courses are designed with employability in mind.

Greater research is needed into the effectiveness of different types of sustainability training for students, whether embedded in course material, as additional optional modules, or in extra-curricular workshops. It is important that sustainability skills are imparted efficiently as well as effectively, as students also have to complete their degree course, and are unlikely to elect to several additional extra-curricular hours a week of training. This is addressed in the interviews undertaken as part of this scoping study. Further research is also needed into the current training made available to recent graduates or employees at certain businesses, and whether this directed, role-specific approach to sustainability training is more or less effective than general sustainable development knowledge gained through university learning.

The complete Literature Review can be accessed in the Future Graduate Skills Study.

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