The future of work would not be centred only on job security and economic growth of nations. The key dimensions of sustainable development, defined by the United Nations Goal 8 as promoting sustained, inclusive and decent work for all, require to be addressed by all stakeholders – governments, corporates and citizens. In this context, many organisations have tried to strengthen CSR/ESG initiatives with resources with specialised sustainability skills.
A long-term business model that aligns itself with the sustainability agenda and is also profitable is a challenge for some longstanding businesses, but they do recognise the urgency to rethink their business approaches. To some extent, there is resistance and lack of clarity too among corporates about sustainability.
As per a report of the World Economic Forum, 40% of the core skills of present workers are expected to change in the next five years. This would mean that everyone who is a part of the workforce and all those entering the workforce should possess an understanding of the ecology and environment. In this context, a sustainability curriculum needs to be evolved for every educational programme to help learners think of sustainability in their respective functions and professions. In the US, more than 45% of the top business schools have incorporated sustainability as a part of their curriculum. In India too, there is an urgent need to redesign academic programmes.
The circular economy requires the minimal use of resources, ensuring they are not depleted. Such an approach to build green economies is expected to create around 60 million jobs in the next twenty years, which would call for new skills in the youth graduating from our universities.
For example, for geologists interested in working in the mining industry, the focus would be on risk assessment, energy audits, and sustainable management of resources like raw materials, as well as the development issues of the communities amidst which such work is carried out. Food technologists would need to build an overall systems view of resourcing and reducing the carbon footprint. Chemical engineers have to come up with solutions that would protect the environment and eliminate toxicity. The examples are numerous.
In building sustainable businesses and economies, digital technology would play a vital role. Technologies such as cloud computing, AI and automation have the potential to maximise sustainable development. The ability to collect, analyse and report data would be critical to studying and promoting sustainability in every part of the business. Hence, data and digital skills should be a part of the curriculum for every discipline.
Further, upskilling in digital technologies as per the latest trends would be extremely important to build sustainable livelihoods and sustainable ecosystems. More than ever before, there is a need for industry and academia to come together to work on this agenda. Businesses should provide insights from their failures and the challenges faced with their sustainability initiatives, so that academia can conduct research and find innovative approaches that would benefit organisations.
The writer is chairperson, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company