Ecological reconstruction has significant effects on the work done in society. Success in reconstruction requires that certain kinds of work get done and other kinds are left undone. As societies are directed by transition politics instead of a growth strategy, the customary ways of thinking about work and employment policies will be transformed. The goal of economic and employment policies is not a high gross employment rate: attention must be focused primarily on the substance of the work that gets done. It is vital to take care that the work furthers the transformation of the systems that currently depend on overuse of natural resources and reconstructs them as sustainable, while safeguarding equal opportunities for a good life for all citizens. We call this vision transition employment. It is also important to note that in addition to the urgent environmental goals, the future development of employment is also determined by the increasing need for welfare services, and digitalization.
The aim of transition employment is on the one hand to determine and engender work that furthers the progress of ecological reconstruction, and on the other hand to take care that this work gets done. The development of employment during transition politics has three key features that need to be recognized in public employment policy: 1) the kinds of employment that disappear or are substantially transformed as environmental goals are realized, 2) the kinds of employment that either further ecological transition of are already aligned with sustainable systems and 3) the kinds of employment that are created to carry out the transition. A key observation is that the amount of human-performed work needed will not most likely decrease; rather, it will increase. Thus the enduring argument that furthering environmental goals would be detrimental to the development of employment is without basis.
Good examples here are agriculture, knowledge work and the sectors of social work and health. A sustainable food system, which includes a more diverse selection of cultivars and comprehensive recycling of nutrients, requires more labour than present practices, and qualitatively this work also differs from a lot of the work in the sector currently. The content of knowledge work also needs to transform in many areas. Substantial effort is needed for example in the planning and the direction of the transformations in energy and transportation systems, especially as they have to align with both climate and biodiversity concerns. On the other hand, a lot of the routine work can be automated extensively, lessening the need of work in the sector in general. The sectors of social work and health are employment-wise already to a large extent aligned with ecological reconstruction, although the organisation of work will no doubt be developed in the future, for example to focus more on prevention. All in all, these sectors will require more labour, as the welfare and resilience of the citizens have to be supported during the transition.
Public authorities have a key role in organising transition employment. If the market does not give rise to employment that aligns with the tasks needed in the transition, public authorities can direct unemployed people of working age and and the capacity to work towards important tasks, for example by long-term industrial policies and by launching a national job guarantee program. Transition employment has to be supported by coordinated educational, social and regional policies. Employees have to be educated to new tasks, and the institutions of social security must be able to react to quick transformations in the labour situation. In addition to that, such transformations should always be judged in the local context. For example when judging the employment effects of renewable energy projects, the local employment needs have to be acknowledged. When employment policies are realized in a just and fair way, the wholesale transition of the society becomes more acceptable, strengthening societal resilience.
How is progress measured?
The indicator monitors, sector by sector, how large a proportion of the employed are already working in jobs that are aligned with the goals of ecological reconstruction, and how many workers are needed in each sector. The BIOS Research Unit has done a preliminary one-time estimate of this, but continuous monitoring requires systematic methodology and statistics that are assembled by official bodies.
The indicator was created in two cross-referencing evaluation processes.
First we estimated the development of employment qualitatively, sector by sector, based on multidisciplinary environmental research. We assessed the work that has to be done in each sector of the economy in order to realize the needed systematic transitions, phasing out the use of fossil fuels and stopping the overuse of natural resources without degrading the possibilities for a good life for the citizens. In this estimation we also took note of the transformational potential of digitalization. Regarding digitalization, we assumed that in manufacture it has already progressed far, whereas in knowledge work much of its current potential has not yet been utilized. Our estimate was compared to the 2015 report by the VATT Institute for Economic Research about employment in Finland in 2015–2030. The report based its assessments on rather straightforward continuation of trends perceived in previous years.
Secondly, we examined the definitions and the calculations of “the environmental goods and services sector” by Statistics Finland. The statistics on the environmental goods and services sector describe all environmentally related business activities that prevent pollution and environmental degradation or save natural resources. Thus it encompasses only a part of the employment required by ecological reconstruction. Care work, for example, is vital to the goals of the reconstruction, but only a minute part of it can be classified as belonging to the environmental goods and services sector. We re-evaluated the statistics on the environmental goods and services sector qualitatively, leaning on the EU taxonomy for sustainable economic activities that is part of the EU Green Deal initiative. The aim of the taxonomy is to create comprehensive criteria of sustainability, based on which it would be possible to evaluate different kinds of economic activities and to direct funding towards those that further ecological transition.
From both of these evaluation processes and after a comprehensive evaluation by the BIOS Research Unit, we arrived at tripartite figures for all sectors: 1) the kinds of employment that either disappear or are substantially transformed, 2) the kinds of current employment that either further the transition or are already aligned with sustainable systems and 3) new employment that corresponds with the transition.
In evaluating transition employment it should be noted that system transformations bring significant uncertainties. All evaluations that consider transformations include by necessity more qualitative and argumentative consideration than evaluations based on linear extrapolations of past and current trends. If transformations occur, linear evaluation is not more exact even though it might seem more detailed and repeatable.