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by Aman Singh Das | July 29, 2010


In our recently concluded "Job hunting in CSR" series, an interestingdisconnect emerged between students and companies. Essentially, the four MBAgraduates that I interviewed emphasized that their specialization in sustainability and CSR skills wasclashing with a recruitment landscape that continues to give more importance togeneric business skills. Their combined experiences suggest that the market forthese skills isn't mature yet, and there remains a wide gap between companies'interpretation of corporate responsibility and its execution operationally.

A recent Deloitte survey adds weight to this theory. Ina wide-ranging survey, 48 sustainability leaders representing a wide spectrumof industries were polled about their initiatives and where they thought themarket was headed.

What skillswill companies need to become more sustainable?

The overwhelming majority of respondents answeredthe above question with comments that negate the distinctness of sustainabilityas a separate focus for business schools. This is particularly worrying, as thetheme is increasingly becoming popular among students who want their careerpaths to be aligned with corporate citizenship and a culture of accountability.

According to the report, more than two-thirds (73%)of the polled executives thought business-related skills are what is needed tomake their businesses more sustainable. This compares to a mere 19 percent whoconsidered technological skills in answer to the question. The oddity here isthat sustainability solutions like energy efficiency, LEED and HVAC requirespecialized knowledge and highly technical skill sets. Executives, however,seem to be placing a premium on more generic business skills such as increasedknowledge and awareness of sustainability efforts, the ability to thinksystemically, the ability to understand complex legislation aroundsustainability, and financial analytic skills. So great is the disconnect thatthe report contains the following warning:

"[E]xecutives [mustnot] underestimate the importance of technical skills when it comes to actuallyexecuting the initiatives that make sustainability possible […] we view generalbusiness skills and technical skills as complementary talent needs in drivingsustainability."

Willsustainability efforts create dedicated green jobs?

Worryingly for those seeking to forge careers inthe field, a majority of respondents said that they did not believe that aheightened focus on sustainability would lead to the creation of a new greencollar workforce. Rather, most emphasized that the same jobs that exist todaywould be performed with the same or somewhat expanded skill sets, albeit withmore awareness of sustainability goals.

Further, a majority also expressed the belief thateven if this new consciousness did create green jobs, they would occupy a smallportion of the economy, including consultants, energy efficiency experts, andgreen analysts. And even these would be more about broadening the scope ofexisting job profiles than creating new ones.

From the report:

"The concept of the'green-collar workforce' appears to encompass two types of workers: arelatively small population of specialists in sustainable technologies andother sustainability-specific skills, and a much larger population of people inordinary jobs who will need to bring new sustainable perspectives and skills tothe work they already do.

In fact, just as sustainability will likely becomeintegrated into leadership roles, we expect that it will also become embeddedinto roles all the way along the corporate hierarchy, so that people will beexpected to bring awareness and skills related to sustainability to virtuallyany position in much the same way as they now must have at least rudimentary“e-business” skills (e.g., knowledge of how to use the Internet). This impliesa need for continuous employee training and retraining with respect tosustainability in order to keep the workforce current with the changingbusiness environment and shifting talent needs.

These findings aren't out of keeping with what I've been hearing from somepractitioners in the field. For example,EMC's Chief Sustainability Officer Kathrin Winklerbelieves that sustainability going forward will become a cohesive part ofeveryone's job profile and not command its own separate departmental function.But for those who are undertaking the specialized training to find jobs in thefield, this sort of news isn't going to be welcome: students like Jim Wilson and Megan Rast—both MBA candidates and respectivelyinterning with Yahoo! and eBay as part of EDF's 2010 Climate Corps internship program—aredepending on this specialized focus on sustainability as part of their businessschool curriculum to land them jobs upon graduation.

In this array of recruiters who continue to givemore importance to generic business skills over their specializations, where dothese job seekers stand? Inculcating sustainability as a company culture is onething, but negating the value these future generations of decision makers bringto the table is going to only restrict companies from becoming trulysustainable—and therefore their ability to compete in the long term.


Filed Under: CSR
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