Update on the analysis of employment and training in the energy and environmental transitions


Since the beginning of the 2010s, Céreq has been conducting a series of exploratory studies with the aim of improving understanding of the developments taking place in the occupations and training pathways associated with energy, sustainable development and the environment.

This is a complex segment for the actors in employment and training to get a grip on because it does not correspond to a single industry or sector, or even to a clearly defined group of occupations. Consequently, sector-based approaches cannot be used, and nor can those based on levels of education or training or on the identification of typical occupations or jobs (such as the ETED method, for example). The analytical frameworks traditionally applied to employment and training appear to be worthless when it comes to understanding the changes taking place.

Thus to obtain an overall picture of the changes taking place in the jobs and training programmes linked to energy and the environment constitutes something of a challenge. What methods are to be adopted?

A variety of approaches, particularly statistical ones, have been employed since the mid-2000s as part of an attempt to develop a classification of so-called ‘green’ and ‘greening’ occupations.

The qualitative studies carried out by Céreq since 2013 have had a triple focus:

  • Analysis of future skill requirements in environmentally friendly activities, whether newly emerging or already well established in the French industrial landscape (prospective study of the environment and sustainable development in Martinique; studies of renewable marine energies, terrestrial wind farms, intelligent electrical networks and anaerobic digestion);
  • Innovation in occupations through the identification of professional practices that are either new or developing in sectors variously impacted by environmental and energy-related issues (construction, agriculture, logistics);
  • The evolution of qualifications, which has made it possible to highlight the ‘greening’ of reference frameworks. 

Prospectively speaking, the studies have not focused on one industry or sector but rather on the activities, often emerging or in the structuration phase, known as ‘eco-activities’. According to the Ministry of the Environment, Energy and the Sea, ‘eco-activities (represent) all activities directly involved in the preservation of the environment in the standard sense of the term (water, air, soil, waste including recycling, smell, noise), whether preventively or curatively, in energy efficiency, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energies’. Today, these activities are trying to structure themselves into industries or sectors through the  Strategic Orientation Committee for Eco-industries (which covers a certain number of industrial eco-activities), and notably under the umbrella of the National Council for Industry and the strategic committees that have been set up for the various groups of activities. 

The analysis of the activities investigated (renewable marine energies, terrestrial wind farms, intelligent electrical networks and anaerobic digestion) was based on a description in terms of ‘industry’. This was an exploratory approach, one that was complex to put into practice from a methodological point of view (choice of relevant actors, definition of scope, validation of a value chain, etc.). However, it did help to highlight a number of specific dynamics. 

One significant aspect of the results is the fact that the eco-activities investigated did not reveal any new occupations but rather various forms of reconstitution within existing occupations:

  • Bringing together of areas of technical expertise that had hitherto been scattered among different occupations (in renewable marine energies, for example, hydraulics, mechanics, power electronics, IT and automation);
  • Changes in occupations that require the professionals concerned to acquire additional competences (intelligent electrical networks: need for professionals working in electricity transport and distribution to acquire ICT skills);
  • Changes in occupational roles (anaerobic digestion: farmers becoming industrialists?);
  • Changes in work organisation in some occupations (e.g. metrologist and instrument technician). 

In terms of innovation in occupations, three studies on the construction, agriculture and logistics sectors focused on professional practices that might be described as marginal or still embryonic. The studies investigated associations or cooperatives operating in the construction (eco-friendly construction), logistics (taking the example of the logistics of short supply chains) and agricultural AD sectors. Brought together in the form of a synthesis report, the three analyses sought to understand how initiatives launched by voluntary associations or cooperatives might contribute to the environmental transition.

Innovative approaches to networking and collaborative working were observed in each of the spheres of activity investigated (eco-friendly construction, agricultural AD and the logistics of short supply chains). These collaborative approaches, which cut across various areas of activity and occupations, make use of information and communication technologies, and in particular digital platforms. These platforms facilitate new ways of working based on pooling and sharing. Such approaches are possible because the various actors identify with the same value chain and professional ethic, both of which are usually linked to the social and solidarity economy.

Voluntary associations and cooperatives are playing an essential role in the emergence of an environmental transition.

Thus the voluntary associations and cooperatives involved in the logistics of short supply chains are putting in place shared arrangements involving several different carriers for handling consignments of fruit and vegetables to be delivered to institutional caterers (school canteens).  Such shared arrangements, hoped and prayed for by the so-called ‘traditional’ freight carriers, are very difficult to put in place because of a multiplicity of difficulties, linked for the most part to complex competitive dynamics. These competitive dynamics are less exacerbated in networks of voluntary associations and cooperatives working together towards a common objective.

Thus voluntary associations and cooperatives are playing an essential role in the emergence of a process of environmental transition in the various occupations and in the wider economy. They can function as a ‘lever’, in the same way as they did in helping to establish and diffuse education for the environment and education for sustainable development in initial and continuing training programmes. 

As far as developments in qualifications are concerned, analysis of the greening of reference frameworks has shown that issues related to the environment and sustainable development have been taken into account to a certain extent in the ministerial orders setting out the conditions under which qualifications can be issued. These changes are more evident in some sectors (metal industries, construction, chemical industry and the ‘timber and derivatives’ sector’) than in others and depend less on the level of qualification than on the training specialism. Nevertheless, the intermediate occupations (the majority of which are level III qualifications) are more affected by these changes than the manual occupations (many of which are still level V qualifications). Sustainable development does, after all, have a managerial dimension (energy savings, corporate social responsibility evaluations) that concerns these intermediate levels.

While the regulatory level is clearly changing, what is actually happening on the ground? An analysis of the training programmes actually being offered and the level of real commitment among teachers and trainers is now required in order to gain a better understanding of how environmental issues and ‘greening’ are being incorporated into vocational training programmes.

Taking into account the social innovation dimension of these changes.

The qualitative analyses conducted on the themes of energy, the environment and sustainable development revealed the importance of taking into account the social innovation dimension of these changes. These innovative dimensions can be captured by analysing the employment and training aspect of current efforts to structure and restructure activities in order to form more clearly defined industries. They can also be identified by examining the margins of the traditional economy where voluntary associations and cooperatives specialising in very specific areas of the environmental transition operate. Finally, these social innovations may develop out of a voluntary approach adopted by the public authorities. This is the case with the greening of reference frameworks  for qualifications, for example, even though it must subsequently be verified that this greening of the regulations will be pursued and internalised by the actors in both the vocational training system and the world of work.

Thus while it is important to identify and calculate numerical values for the occupations most affected by the environmental and energy transition (green and greening occupations), more qualitative innovations, which are often local or regionalised in nature, should not be ignored.


Further Reading:

The emergence of environmentally friendly practices. Three analyses in the construction, anaerobic digestion and transport sectors. (English summary)

The anaerobic digestion industry, Stéphane Michun, Céreq Etudes n°5. décember 2016 (English summary)

Haut de page