17 May 2017 15:50 IST

The rise of the green collar economy

With automation threatening both blue collar and white collar jobs, why not pick up green skills?

“Two lakh jobs in the IT sector in India to be cut annually for the next three years,” ominous headlines scream. “ At least a quarter of the people who will lose their jobs due to automation will be from India,” says HR solutions firm PeopleStrong, predicting that those in banking, IT and ITES will face the heat first.

Even as industry body NASSCOM hurriedly refutes some of these media reports, asserting that during its movement from scale to skill, IT sector will still be a net hirer, the fear of job loss is real. The IT and ITES sector currently employs 3.7 million people and according to Nasscom, this year will see an addition of 1.5 lakh jobs to the total pool.

Automation is certainly going to change the nature of jobs, both white collar and blue collar. Which is why it may be a good time to pick up some ‘green skills’ and look at the green collar economy. After all, as the International Labour Organisation, which has been promoting green jobs for a while now, points out, “At least half of the global workforce — the equivalent of 1.5 billion people — is affected by the transition to a greener economy.”

What are green jobs?

There are many definitions doing the rounds. A green job, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, is work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development, administrative, and service activities that contribute to preserving environmental quality.

These include jobs that help protect ecosystems and biodiversity. From the low-skilled NREGA work to the high-skilled tasks that technologists do on climate change, green jobs straddle all levels.

Indeed, the green-collar economy refers to the millions of jobs that are being created by the development of clean, renewable energy technologies and climate change action. Post the Paris accord in December 2015 when 195 countries agreed to tackle climate change, and a more recent follow up in Kigali when nearly 200 nations said they would phase out hydroflourocarbons, a lot of action and investment has been going on in green tech.

Powerhouse corporations such as Coca-Cola, General Motros, Microsoft, Google, Walmart, UTC have all pledged to be part of the climate change movement. The result: millions of green jobs are going to emerge out of this movement.

Central role

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to chat with an ILO specialist and ask him what the emergence of the green collar workforce would mean for the old blue collar and white collar equations. His reply was that green collar workers would be valued more because “they play a central role in productivity (saving enterprises’ money) and for meeting environmental standards required by markets and governments.”

In other words, green collar workers are at a higher plane!

In the 1980s, there was the personal computer revolution. In the 1990s, the Internet and software development brought in a new wave of jobs. At the turn of the millennium, telecom boom happened, and app developers became sought-after. This decade is being touted as the era of data scientists. But parallelly, there is also the rise of the green workforce!

Mother Earth must be smiling at this trend.