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How firms can meet the booming demand for ESG jobs

Firms must seek a sustainability leader with an ESG mindset and green courses for workers.

With a stricter employment pass application and the two-year work-from-home setup slowing down the productivity of Singaporeans, employers are met with yet another obstacle to hiring—filling in the company with employees to fill in sustainability roles. Expert Jaya Dass from human resource consultancy firm, Randstad, said there is “high interest” for ESG roles in the labour market but skills mismatch and the companies, themselves, lack the proper training to ensure they are hiring the right talent.

Amidst the Singapore Green Plan 2030 was launched in 2021, ESG jobs demand went up to 257% in the past three years, according to job portal Indeed. National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) LearningHub’s Special Report 2022 on Sustainability showed that seven in 10 employers eye hiring talent for sustainability roles in the next two years. 

“It’s difficult for companies to evaluate the skills and capabilities of these candidates, especially if it’s their first hire in this space. If there is no history or framework to know what to look out for in a job applicant, the company may run the risk of making the wrong hire, which would further delay the strategy implementation,” Dass said in an interview with Singapore Business Review.

Targeting the youth

Dass said green courses will likely be of interest to the younger generation, who are known for their activism against the climate crisis. 

The youth, who are more exposed to the internet, have a greater sense of accountability and responsibility for their climate actions because they are more educated through content on what is happening with climate change, added Dass.

Citing a recent Amundi-ESG Investor study, Dass said the proportion of ESG investors is higher amongst the younger respondents than Generation X and baby boomers. About eight in 10 (82%) of Gen Zs are ESG investors and 65% are young millennials compared to Generation X and baby boomers with 41%.

"I think that younger investors tend to be more aware of and committed towards environmental and social topics - including sustainable investing. They want jobs in which they can contribute towards this cause in a meaningful and purposeful way," she said.

Going in one direction

Dass emphasised the need for an internal sustainability team in firms that would align the company’s sustainable efforts with the country’s political initiatives.

An example of this is businesses producing coffee and how they look for raw products to push their ESG agenda.

If they are sourcing their raw goods from Africa, they are dependent on whether the African government is pushing for an environmental climate.

If not, they will need to look for another country or region that is greener to support their production.

Dass said it is also important in making sure the local workforce producing the coffee is implementing fair trade practices.

Another crucial factor for the success of the company’s ESG agenda is the top management, Gabriel Nam, partner at HR firm, Michael Page, told Singapore Business Review.

With ESG standards being a new area to some businesses, juggling the implementation of sustainability efforts with other business priorities could be a challenge, Nam warned. “There are extra layers of considerations on ESG when making business decisions, and  senior stakeholders may need to get familiar with,” he told Singapore Business Review.

“Sometimes they may not be able to visualise the real and immediate benefits of doing ESG; hence, there is a need to get buy-in from internal employees to successfully implement ESG initiatives,” he added.

If the benefits of investing in ESG efforts are not immediate, there could be “ESG fatigue” in the short to medium term.

“[Top management] must invest the resources, bring in the talent, advocate on urgency on ESG’s impact to business and share some [sustainable] wins to make people believe in this ESG agenda,” Nam said.

Where the government comes in

NTUC Learning Hub found in a study that employers need help in green skills training. 69% of employers are “somewhat open” to giving training to their employees on sustainability and 56% of business leaders polled need help to train their employees with relevant skills in sustainability. 

As this happens, Dass encourages offering green courses that must also be in demand, not just for fresh talent but also for mid-level employees. Green courses must be inserted in other degrees. For example, finance degrees should also include courses about green financing.

“Education is pivoting to ensure that there is a steady output of ESG talent, and equipping students with the specialised skills they need to meet the rising demand for green jobs over the next three to five years," Dass said. 

The Ministry of Education (MOE) is already driving these efforts to hone students and workers in ESG since 2021. 

This was followed by some Institutes of Higher Learning implementing training centres and living laboratories to not only support green skills for students but also mid-level professionals.

To name a few, the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East launched the ITE-SembCorp Centre for Sustainable Solutions in 2021 to provide a training centre for integrated sustainable solutions which seeks to train more than 400 students and mid-career professionals annually to develop skilled manpower for the increasing solar industry in Singapore.

The Temasek Polytechnic's Integrative Built Environment Centre also aims to train around 2,000 students and working professionals on sustainability and the built environment through internship opportunities. Nam said green expertise could also be provided by a regulatory professional body or a government body in Singapore.

He cited efforts by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and not-for-profit organisation, CFA Institute, to provide education and information that will enhance skills and competencies for green jobs.

The CFA Institute is offering a certificate in ESG investing, which includes a curriculum on ESG markets, investment mandates, portfolio analytics, and client reporting. This certificate was recognised by the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, which encourages investors to be responsible in investment decisions to enhance returns and improve business risks.

MAS recently partnered with the Institute of Banking and Finance Singapore (IBF) to create 12 technical skills and competencies in sustainable finance, which include topics on climate change policy developments, natural capital, green taxonomies, carbon markets, and decarbonisation strategies. Banks, asset managers, and insurers have the flexibility to adopt these technical skills that are relevant to their employees and businesses.

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