The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) worked on an international project that is called ‘Boosting skills for greener jobs’ in four countries: Belgium (Flanders), Poland (Pomorskie), Greece (Attica) and South Africa (Western Cape). The objective of this project is to analyze which specific knowledge and skills are required for the shift to a greener economy.

“The green economy can be defined as an economy that aims to reduce environmental and ecological impacts, while promoting sustainable growth. The green economy will lead to ‘a progressive redefinition of skills requirements in many jobs across many sectors. We have to integrate environmental awareness and maximize productive and decent working standards.” (Cliquot, 2016, p. 8).

In this article we will only focus on the OECD survey in Flanders, more specifically on the agro-food, construction and chemical sector, because these are the most important for the local economies:

  • West-Flanders is known for their strong agro-food cluster. Cattle and poultry as well as potatoes and vegetables are produced and cultivated in large quantities. That’s the reason why this region is also known as the vegetable garden of the Western Europe. Because of its excellent location and its extensive infrastructure network West-Flanders has many logistical advantages.
  • The chemical sector in the port of Antwerp has a significant presence in their economy. It represents one of the largest chemical clusters in the world. It has started to acknowledge the importance of sustainability in the training of employees but has some difficulties finding the necessary technical and multidisciplinary expertise. Therefor this sector has to collaborate with universities to build a talent pipeline and provide workforce with the required skills and knowledge.
  • The construction sector could offer opportunities for new jobs and has increased significantly by the general recognition of green building standards (new developments like more airtight building, new approaches to ventilation…)

Also, Flanders is the largest European producer of frozen vegetables. Flanders produces every year about 25% of its European supply. Another value-added industry in Flanders is the diamond industry in Antwerp. In 2016, the import and export of diamonds in Antwerp had a value of 48 billion USD.

The transition to a greener economy will have several effects on the Flemish labor market:

First, existing jobs will change. In order to have the required skills for green businesses, adjustments to their current training, education and evaluation system is unavoidable. More than half of the firms in Flanders will have to upskill or retrain current workforce, while a third needs to hire external consultants for advising and supporting them to make these environmental changes in their firm.

Specifically, there is an increasing need for transversal and industry-specific skills like technical skills (in research, engineering…), management and knowledge on techniques (to become more energy efficient), skills on innovation and management for change.

Many experts fear that a green economy will cause a lower productivity and extra costs, when in fact a green economy has the potential to create new jobs.

The European Union for instance estimates that the green employment initiative could create 400 000 new jobs by improving waste prevention and management and another 400 000 jobs could be created in Europe by making buildings more energy efficient. Furthermore, when it increases +1%, the water industry could create between 10 000 and 20 000 jobs in Europa.

But the transition to a greener economy could cause new jobs in Flanders as well. Studies estimate that it could create 27 000 jobs in industries like waste management, recycling industry and the circular sector.

However, in countries that have an energy and emission intensive economy, the transition to a greener economy will include severe costs because these countries have to make enormous adjustments to their economy.

Furthermore, Flanders performs well on many environment activities compared to other countries but Flanders could improve their results related to air-pollution and CO2-emmision (especially from the transportation sector).

At the moment the Flemish government is working to transversal challenges and systemic changes in the ‘Flanders in Action’ project that was created by the former Prime Minister, Yves Leterme in 2006.

This social-economic business plan has several objectives, such as:

  • Renewable energy technology and smart grid (this is an electrical grid which includes operational and energy measures like smart meters, smart appliances…)
  • Sustainable living and building
  • Sustainable materials management
  • Smart mobility
  • Sustainable and creative city

Lastly OECD gives the government of Flanders some policy recommendations to improve their transition to a greener economy:

First the Flemish government should stimulate environmental education and make efforts to raise interest in the STEM-careers (Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics careers) for requiring more technically skilled people.

They should also seek out business leaders who have demonstrated a great vision towards green activities and promote their efforts to other employers.

As a final point the government should also provide support for the local areas in monitoring the green economy transition by building good local level information and benchmarks.

Natascha Goovaerts – Junior Consultant


Literature list:

OECD (2017). Boosting skills for greener jobs in Flanders, Belgium, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Climate Change Performance Index (2017). Results 2017.