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Sustainable Manufacturing: Understand the Past, Prepare for the Future

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Predicting the future is always easier once it’s here. These words were likely never actually spoken by a famous philosopher, but we all know it’s true – especially when it comes to predicting specific jobs, their demand or exact time of entry or acceleration in the market. Those of us who are involved in identifying future workforce opportunities often get directional trends and skills right even if we can’t align on the exact job titles employers would use. Yet as futurists and planners, we must also remember a saying often credited to Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” To us at Manpower, that means watching for and identifying changing goals for evolving futures as well as being purposeful and perseverant in our efforts to get our associates ready before we get there, not after.

So how have we been getting ready for the accelerating sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) era in which we squarely sit? We have set the foundation by understanding the nature and types of roles and needed skills, and then identifying what is required to close the gap between now and next. I’ll touch on some guidance points on roles and skills here and invite you watch a webinar I hosted with my colleague Rebekah Kowalski on June 24 where we’ll share more. To watch on demand, click here.

Guidance 1: Think GREEN and TURQUOISE: Color your world.

To us one of the most important early steps to take has been to expand the playing field and widen the perspective of what the job roles are in sustainability. A key concept is that there are not just Green Jobsthose applying science and technology to directly impact interactions with the environment, or those that perform “greener, cleaner, and leaner” jobs (clean processes, clean manufacturing, and other direct STEM efforts to reduce materials, energy, harmful impact, etc.); there are also Turquoise Roles that we’ve positioned before (see my blog, Powering Sustainable Manufacturing: Three Strategic Insights and Workforce Trends), the nonscience, core business, social and governance roles focused on enabling and connecting green work and processes to the new, expanding green and ESG horizons. Without those turquoise connector and enabler roles, our communities, our world — meaning the connected social, economic and natural ecosystem — can’t make the progress we all need: opportunities won’t be fulfilled, innovation will slow, impacts won’t be mitigated and crises won’t be averted. So it’s important to see the full “spectrum” of roles.

Guidance 2: Know ROLES and MORE ROLES Mean JOBS and MORE/DIFFERENT Jobs.

The second basic guidance is to consider the specific needs, talent plans and connections throughout your supply chains for green and turquoise roles. It starts with expanding your scope of roles.

Where We Are
You’re likely aware of many common green jobs. There are hundreds of role and job titles that reveal how green jobs have come increasingly into focus. For example, some of the veteran roles that helped define what we could call the conventional green workforce are conservation officers, forest rangers, ecologists, hazmat technicians, environmental engineers, geoscientists, hydrologists, hotshots (wildfire fighters), and facility ESH coordinators. In more recent decades, more roles came along, such as solar panel installers, wind power engineers, biomass plant managers and operators, recycling coordinators and more, to make up a more complete view of the green job sector.

Turquoise jobs have their veteran squad as well: environmental lawyers, compliance managers, energy brokers, green marketers, community organizers, eco-tourism guides, transportation planners and engineers, and energy analysts to name a few.

Where We Are Headed
Are you keeping up with some of the emerging green and turquoise jobs and what they might mean depending on your sector, your sustainability transformation, your energy/materials/bio business transition?

These jobs should be added to your green jobs list: biomimicry specialists, biomining engineers, remediation/redevelopment specialists and site managers, carbon capture and sequestration systems installers, plant pathologists, edible packaging engineers (amazing what you can do with starch and blueberry skins), urban farmers, bio-based solution architects … and more that we’ll continue to cover and support as these roles emerge, adapt and scale.

And … there are many, many additions for your turquoise list – especially with the increased focus of Social and Governance as closely tied to green and holistic sustainability. Here are some that we have been tracking and profiling for clients: sustainability engineers, diversity and equity advisors; sustainability coaches; climate impact analysts; environmental accountants, economists, and finance specialists; ESG auditors and reporting managers; climate psychologists; sustainable product sales and account executives; and more. Plus there are hundreds of management role titles in place across the work landscape from sustainability change management specialists, managers of global sustainability & social impact, and chief sustainability officers. As many of these roles gen up and as organizations progress on the sustainability agendas, we’ll see a fair amount of project and initiative orientation. Over time as sustainability becomes part of the default and routine operating environment, the project orientation will turn to operating mode but until then, you’ll see many sustainability-related project managers, coordinators and program directors with interesting subtitles for the specific initiatives they’re leading.

And when I think of former classmates of mine from my biomimcry professionals program, the roles there are diverse as well in both green and turquoise arenas: an astrobiofuturist; a net zero waste/ urban material systems architect and author; assistant professor of sustainable industrial engineering and founder of a nature-based research and development studio; and a senior scientist in biomimicry. And my real job for decades, regardless of official title, has been as an organizational biologist and workforce ecosystem forecaster.

GUIDANCE 3: Start Now for Skilling Up, Across and Around

While there’s much diversity in role titles, many of us with a sustainability or ESG focus have shared skillsets in common; some of those are sector-specific and some cross most or all sectors. Consider these areas for targeted upskilling:
Business: Closed loop business principles; investigative sciences; holistic systems; public-private business case development; life cycle management and total costing; quantitative risk Impact analysis; ESG auditing and reporting; alternative business models and sector strategies; community and economic development; social service programming.
Technical: Green engineering principles and practices, green chemistry principles and practices; land/air/water mapping; environmental restoration planning; ecosystem management services.
Professional: Systems thinking; storytelling; critical thinking; adaptability; project management; negotiations; futures thinking and modeling and more.

This is just a partial list – we will share more in our future research.

A related future topic for us is how the expanding turquoise brigade will be larger and even more diverse than the green roles as businesses and entities in all sectors mature their sustainability efforts, fix the many related issues and enable innovation.

Another topic, and a serious issue that requires more constructive data and perspectives, is the shift of jobs that the more sustainable future will bring. While we operate from the position that there will be more jobs available than those that are lost, it’s one very major item on the road to the future. That’s just one future workforce factor that may not be fully predictable so let’s keep following Abe’s advice and create the future as best and fast we can.

Register here to watch on demand for the June 24th webinar, Shades of Green Manufacturing: Power Your Sustainability Practices with Future-Focused Jobs.

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