What qualifications are needed for environmental protection?

The range of occupations and qualifications required is as diverse as the economy itself. The trend towards more environmental protection in professional training can be observed in many industries. In addition to the respective expert knowledge, soft skills are often important for environmental professionals, such as the ability to work in an interdisciplinary team and to be open to new ideas.

Numerous studies have shown that environmental protection offers high potential for employment. If these potentials are to be realised, workers with the necessary qualifications must be available. Moreover, the absence of specialist staff will bring the innovative activity of enterprises to a grinding halt. The environmental economy in Germany will then run the risk of failure to secure or further develop its very favourable competitive position.

From the perspective of many companies, the shortage of specialist staff already represents an obstacle to economic development. In the long term, demographic changes will further reinforce this trend. Added to this is the required restructuring of the economy to transform it into a Green Economy, the consequence of which will be an increased need across the board for environmental-protection-related qualifications.

Professional training and qualification in relation to environmental protection are thus necessary purely for economic reasons. But, without them, Germany will also be unable to achieve its environmental and climate protection targets. In this respect, the starting situation in Germany is similar to that in other European countries: There is ever broader agreement that environmental protection offers considerable potential for the jobs market, but the development of the qualifications required has not yet been fully integrated into environmental strategies and programmes.

Qualification requirements are changing

Just as diverse as the range of professions in environmental protection is the qualifications profile required. Scientists and engineers are, as in other sectors of the economy, particularly in demand. But specialists in many other fields are also sought after: for instance, lawyers, economists, project managers and sales people. Banks and insurance companies, require energy experts for risk assessment and lending. There are also very good future prospects in many skilled trades. In the energy sector, for example, commercial energy specialists are needed, as are mechanics and electrical engineers who are prepared to train as maintenance and service technicians for wind power.

Nearly two-thirds of jobs in environmental protection are accounted for by environmentally-oriented services. These include different tasks such as providing advice on energy and water saving, horticulture and landscaping, ecological construction planning in engineering and architectural offices, environmentally-focused legal and commercial advice and environmental education and training.

Soft skills – the ability to work in an interdisciplinary environment and a team-oriented manner and to be open to new ideas – is also very important for environmental professionals. Due to the fact that the environmental economy is very innovative, developments in many fields are characterised by constant changes in professional requirements. Technical progress and growing environmental challenges are changing the focus of professional development. This affects, for instance, the automotive sector in which, courtesy of electric mobility, new qualification requirements are set to emerge along the entire value chain. This example also shows that “environmental qualifications” are not limited to the classical areas of environmental protection but are advancing into many other professions as well. If this challenge is to be met, it is not sufficient just to change the professional and academic training of young people joining the labour market for the first time. Lifelong learning also needs to be promoted.

The example of renewable energies

In the last decade, demand for workers in the renewable energies field has increased. Particularly sought after are qualifications with a technical bias, that is to say engineers, technicians and craftspeople. One of the reasons for this is the high demand for specialist staff for service and assembly.
The knowledge required in the renewables sector should not in the first instance be communicated in new training professions and courses of study. The focus should instead be on adapting existing training courses and courses of study, further training programmes and additional qualifications.
The training market has already responded to the increased demand for professionals. For instance, the number of courses related to the topic of renewable energies more than doubled in three years' time: from 144 in 2007 to 300 in 2010.

The example of energy-saving building refurbishment

Energy-saving building refurbishment offers great opportunities for climate protection and employment. Depending on the scenario, it will be possible by 2030 to save between 30 and 70 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the building sector in comparison to 2010 levels. On average, however, only about a third of the financially rewarding savings potentials in existing building stocks are being exploited. One of the reasons for this is the lack of appropriately qualified personnel. It is for this reason that the issue of energy saving should play a greater role in professional training in all construction trades. More space should also be set aside in courses of study such as architecture or civil engineering for building modernisation with regard to energy saving.

A survey of experts from companies, associations and education and training institutions has confirmed also for energy-saving building refurbishment that qualification should be brought about by adapting existing professions. In addition to specialist knowledge of savings potentials and energy efficiency measures, experts consider expertise in consultancy work and teamwork as particularly important. A holistic view and cooperation between different trades also have an important role to play in the success of energy-saving building refurbishment. It therefore follows that there should be courses on offer in professional education and training that promote the interaction of the planning and implementing professions. In addition, the choice of construction materials should consider the entire life cycle, including energy and resource consumption in the manufacture of building and insulating materials and their recyclability. As the planning and implementing trades have an influence on the choice of materials, a special qualification for this purpose would make sense.