New professional skills that will drive the Circular Economy

Published on Thursday, 23 June 2022

The paradigm shift from a linear to a circular economic model will undoubtedly have an impact on labor markets around the world. While some jobs will change dramatically, others will simply disappear altogether, giving way to the emergence of "circular jobs". This will mean that certain skills and competencies will take on greater importance and be in high demand. In general terms, we can say that a job is any occupation that directly or indirectly involves the strategies and models of the circular economy.

As with any process of change, the transformation from a linear to a circular model presents significant challenges but also opportunities. We must not only rethink how to manage material flows and business models, but also how we will manage the human resources needed for this transition. We will need to improve safety and the quality of the workplace, be more inclusive and provide people with learning and development opportunities.

A complete transition to a circular economic model will not be possible without professionals that understanding the economy in a new way, that have a comprehensive knowledge of circular business models and that possess new technical skills. The labor market must be prepared for a transition that is already underway. The International Labor Organization (ILO) predicts that 24 million jobs will be created by 2030 from the transition to the circular economy.

However, the new "green" labor market will require a specific skillset to meet new professional requirements.

The Chilean labor market is changing and the circular economy is expected to be a major driver of employment by 2040 2. The National Roadmap to the Circular Economy 2020-2024 has set a goal of generating 180,000 new circular economy jobs by 2040. To achieve this, the plan outlines new professional profiles that will help push the transformation along different value chains while also incorporating circular economic related subjects on school and university syllabuses nationwide to make sure that future generations are prepared for what is to come.

One example is the commitment shown by the Environment Ministry, the Housing and Urban Development Ministry (MINVU) and the Construction Institute (through Construye 2025). Together, they have begun to use some of the new job titles proposed by the ChileValora Labor Competencies Preliminary Draft which include:   Construction and Demolition Waste Manager - analyst, CDW Aggregate Analysis Plant Operator and Waste Auditor in demolition companies.

We have also seen the world of academia gradually incorporating courses to train people for new job descriptions. The Universidad Católica’s school of civil construction has redesigned its curriculum and from 2022 has started including courses on "Circular Construction" and "Habitability and Energy Sustainability" to better prepare graduates to meet constantly-evolving industry needs.

The U-ECO research project, developed by Bioazul has identified new professional profiles that will be required over the next decade to meet labor market demands in five growth areas in the circular economy. The following is a general overview of the sectors and professions that most stand out:

AGRICULTURE: The rate of urbanization is increasing and over the coming years the majority of the world's population will live in cities. This calls for a new type of sustainable urban agriculture, produced locally, which requires fewer imports, reduces transport-related pollution, and opens up opportunities for bioenergy production. There will be demand for new types of jobs including Urban Agriculture experts, Agronomic Advisors and Biogas Plant Supply Managers, who have studied agronomy, engineering, biotechnology or chemistry.

ACCESS TO WATER: Access to water for both human consumption and to fuel our industries will be crucial for sustainable development and to guarantee the future of our societies. As a renewable resource, water treatment and reuse will be essential to promote circular use and consumption. This will call for workers specialized in water purification and reuse and in water quality monitoring. Such jobs would require a background in biochemistry, processes, automation, sanitary engineering, water resources or environmental technology.

PLASTICS AND SECONDARY MATERIALS: We use plastic for many things in our daily lives. However, the way it is produced, used and disposed of fails to maximize the economic benefits that could be attained through a more circular approach. For that reason, it is imperative to make greater reuse of and to recycle plastics and secondary materials as well as discover innovative new ways to recover their value. U-Eco's research has shown that greater emphasis will be put on improving the use of plastics and secondary materials through recycling, sustainable packaging, and also product reuse. This will require specialists in plastics processing, in sustainable packaging design, and anyone with a knowledge of recycling standards who can develop and implement practices and policies for sorting and recycling waste. There will be a need for people with a background in industrial design, political science, materials science, electromechanics or engineering.

DIGITALIZATION AND EDUCATION: In the circular economy, digitalization provides a great opportunity for life cycle transparency and resource optimization through reverse logistics. Reverse logistics services are designed to move goods from their point of consumption to their destination, either for reuse or proper disposal, while monitoring collection, transportation and sorting of materials. This will require qualified specialists in managing and tracking the logistics chain of goods or products.

These types of circular processes are becoming more and more appealing for private companies who will look for professionals with a deep knowledge of the circular economy who can design and offer new learning programs and workshops to companies Such jobs will require people with backgrounds in marketing, logistics, transport, consumer studies and education.

CONSTRUCTION: The construction and demolition sector creates high volumes of waste that can have a serious environmental impact. Therefore, circularity can be implemented in construction by recycling and reusing construction materials. U-Eco research foresees an evolution in waste management, sustainable design and sustainable resource extraction within the construction sector, which will require professionals with specialist knowledge in urban mining for material recovery and sustainable construction and architecture.