March 14, 2023

Circular Jobs Initiative brings together key players to put people at the heart of the circular economy

On the 7th of March, our Circular Jobs Initiative hosted an interactive event, ‘Putting People at the Heart of the Circular Economy’, in the Hague with the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. The event was geared towards fostering connections between crucial players from the public sector, education and industry who are working on the social impact of the circular economy. By collaborating and aligning their efforts, these stakeholders can design circular policies that promote decent work while protecting the environment. 

Casper Edmonds (ILO), Olga Ivanova (PBL) and Marie van der Zalm (Youth Climate Movement) (from left to right) discussed what is needed for a circular labour market during a plenary session. 

Ingeborg Absil, acting Circular Economy Manager at the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, opened the discussion by highlighting: ‘The circular economy affects almost everyone, everywhere. That’s why we seek to make a just transition, not only in the Netherlands but also abroad. We base this on decent working conditions, affordable, useful products and fair trade worldwide’. 

Improve working conditions in the circular economy

According to Casper Edmonds, Head of Sector Unit, Extractives, Energy and Manufacturing at International Labour Organisation (ILO), the world must face some bitter truths about the circular economy of today. 

‘When we say we want to accelerate the circular economy, surely, we do not want to accelerate the economy as it exists today in so many places. We do not want to see more impoverished men and women toiling in poor working conditions, subject to unsafe work and abuse. We must advance a circular economy that is just, that benefits the environment and uplifts people’, Edmonds pointed out.

He continued by presenting three challenges in making a people-centred circular economy a reality. First, decent jobs in the circular economy will not appear out of thin air. There must be a massive investment in innovative business models and an enabling environment for sustainable enterprises, skills and lifelong learning, waste management and infrastructure, in addition to smarter and more coherent laws and regulations. 

The second challenge is involving workers and employers in shaping the circular economy instead of just imposing new policies on them. Finally, decision-makers need to better understand circular jobs, current working conditions and how to improve them. 

We closed the event by announcing that Circle Economy, the ILO and World Bank are launching a new initiative to measure, model and monitor jobs in the circular economy. More information on this initiative will be announced in April.  

Learning from the energy transition

Due to the lack of knowledge available to facilitate the circular transition, lessons learned from the energy transition prove useful. Olga Ivanova, a Senior Researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), emphasised that decision-makers need to think ahead, creating education tracks and training programmes to cater for the labour market of tomorrow. As the energy transition has shown, not doing so may result in skill and labour shortages. Moreover, one should consider developments in all economic sectors—the circular economy may compete for the same talent as artificial intelligence and robotics, for example. Finally, Ivanonva pointed out that ‘The jobs are appearing and disappearing in completely different geographies. ‘But people are not mobile. They cannot just jump from one place to another; there should be policies to facilitate this’.  

Motivate young people to pursue practical education in sustainability 

The need to advance research and grow the knowledge base should not distract from the fact that the circular economy is mostly powered by workers with vocational skills. However, as Marie van der Zalm highlighted, vocational education has been consistently undervalued, at least in the Dutch educational system. This demotivates the young from pursuing practical careers in sustainability. 

Van der Zalm is a member of the Education Task Force at Jonge Klimaatbeweging, a Dutch youth climate movement. Together with her peers, she devised practical recommendations to improve the educational system. Jonge Klimaatbeweging proposes a project-based, interdisciplinary education: ‘the value of people and their skills can be approached much better from the perspective of competencies, talents and intentions’. Van der Zalm also called for regional educational institutions, labour market authorities and businesses to collaborate to map labour gaps and design educational programmes accordingly. 

Participants dived into the practicalities of circular employment during five parallel workshops. 

After the plenary session, participants attended thematic workshops, delving into practical solutions.

In the workshop ‘Better work in the circular economy: International trade and labour conditions’, labour rights advocates, policymakers, academics and industry leaders discussed how to ensure decent work and fair labour conditions for all and explored examples of successful initiatives prioritising fair employment.

‘I was inspired by the solutions discussed during my workshop, particularly with a focus on overlooked sectors and types of workers. We looked at, for example, ‘wisdom economy’—including elderly people who have transferable skills that we can leverage in a circular environment’, shared Katja Noordam, a consultant at Fair Change. 

In ‘Mainstreaming circular economy in businesses: How to enable HR to develop and attract talent’, facilitators prompted questions like:  ‘How will your team’s knowledge and skills change in a more circular future?’ and ‘How can people managers prepare for and anticipate those changes?’, helping participants to understand the needs of their organisations. 

The workshop ‘Education and on the job training: Tackling labour and skills shortages in the case study of the construction sector’ took the construction sector as a case study on how to tackle labour shortages and organise upskilling programmes. 

Emma Gervasi, a junior consultant at Holland Circular Hotspot, commented on the workshop: ‘For me, it was really interesting to see how you can bring people from various perspectives and use non-experts to solve the problem in a sector that has such a big impact on the environment’. 

In the workshop ‘A regional circular transition between education, businesses and governments’, it was acknowledged that the shift from linear to circular economy requires collaboration from various disciplines, including engineering, economics, social sciences and environmental sciences.

In the ‘Measuring what matters: how employment-related indicators can be used to design impactful circular economy interventions’ workshop, participants discussed why employment-related indicators must be measured and which social aspects of employment must be taken into account. 

The event was organised by Circle Economy and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, with support from the Goldschmeding Foundation.

Visit the Circular Jobs Initiative website for more information on circular jobs globally.  

Visit the Dutch Ministry website and read about the National Programme on Circular Economy 2023-2030 (Dutch only).

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