The next jobs boom will be in green tech

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, greenhouse gas emissions are at an all-time high.

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But what does this mean exactly?

It means that without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, a liveable future will be out of reach.

It means we’re in trouble – that is, unless we take urgent action soon.

In light of this information, many companies are facing increased pressure from both governments and stakeholders to reduce their carbon footprint. In the IT sector, which generates an estimated 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, this has led many large organisations, including Google and Amazon Web Services (AWS), to set targets for carbon emission reduction within the next five to ten years.

As a result, more and more companies are now on the hunt for STEM professionals with expertise in green coding and green systems architecture, which lower the energy consumption involved in processing code and enhance synergy and efficiencies among IT systems. As these skills have the power to significantly impact a company’s carbon output, demand for green talent is due to dramatically increase within the next 18 months. However, only 30-50% of the IT industry currently possesses these sought-after skills – meaning that after the boom, we’re in for a bust.

How did we get here?

In the early days of the internet, limited bandwidth and processing power confined code to strict lengths and sizes – meaning that everyone was green coding, though they didn’t know it at the time.

In the past 20 years, however, technological advancements have led to greater bandwidth, processing power, speed and storage capacity – causing code to become longer and less refined and increasing the amount of energy needed to both store and process data.

For years, we’ve existed in this state of continuous growth – with the mindset that there’s always more energy available, more data centres to fill and more capacity to create code.

The widespread use of open-source code is a testament to this statement, as approximately 90% of software developments leverage this practice to serve a wide range of applications – despite the additional processing power needed to sift through the excess lines of code.

In short, we went all in. But it’s time to get back out.

Continuous growth in tech will be environmentally damning

Since its inception, we’ve thrown massive amounts of data onto the cloud, with little to no regard for the environmental impact of our actions.

‘Out of sight, out of mind’ seems to have been our guiding principle.

Perhaps terminology is partly to blame. After all, ‘the cloud’ does seem to imply that our data is stored in thin air, when in reality, it’s stored on physical servers in data centres – which now account for an alarming 1% of global electricity demand.

While data centre providers such as Google and AWS have set ambitious targets to run their facilities on carbon-free or renewable energy within the next 5 to 10 years, our use of data centres will only increase as more and more industries make the digital transition. Therefore, despite being a step in the right direction, powering data centres with renewables and carbon-free energy is not enough.

We need to set our sights on lowering the amount of energy needed to power the sites, which means actively reducing the amount of data that needs to be stored – both by removing data from the cloud to store on individual machines and by focusing on the quality of the code we produce.

In other words, companies must build efficient systems that use efficient code – which requires an understanding of both the technology and its impacts.

‘Environmentally conscious’ skills are needed

To strike a balance between programming quality and energy usage, companies will need employees who are trained in responsible digital practices and understand the environmental implications of the code they create.

This means that software developers who are educated in green coding and have experience developing tools using as few resources as possible are going to be especially attractive to employers moving forward.

In fact, this trend is already underway, as many of our clients have started looking for STEM professionals that can optimise their processes sustainably.

What exactly are they looking for?

They’re looking for digitally responsible STEM professionals who will be able to consider factors that others may overlook, such as a data centre’s capacity or the amount of water needed to cool down the servers. Or for experts who can identify, remove and replace redundant functionalities or applications that aren’t worth the energy upkeep.

What they’re not looking to do, however, is change the core responsibilities of these roles. The positions will stay the same – they will just be performed in a more sustainable and ethical way.

As environmentally conscious STEM professionals are the means to this end, their value will continue to skyrocket in the years to come.

Digitally responsible professionals can therefore expect greater negotiating power in terms of benefits and flexibility and may be able to significantly increase their rates. As such, companies should start investing in this talent pool now, before increased competition places them out of reach.

Green tech: the latest skills shortage

While green tech will experience a jobs boom within the next 18 months, only 30-50% of STEM professionals possess these skills. Therefore, it’s highly likely that a skills shortage is in our near future.

Who are the 30-50%?

For many of the people with these skills, green coding and green systems architecture is a labour of love. They were concerned about the environment and took it upon themselves to obtain the necessary training and education to act responsibly.

For others, it was a well-timed financial decision.

Either way, many of these experts are independent contractors, who are more likely to invest in self-development than permanent employees.

As permanent employees rely largely on their employer for training and development, they may not have the opportunity to acquire these skills. And of course, many people may simply be unconcerned with or unaware of the issue, as is the case with any environmental or social matter.

Moving forward, however, we recommend that all IT professionals consider investing in their own green software training and development – regardless of whether they are applying to contract or permanent roles.

With an impending skills shortage on the horizon, these skills could land you a role at a top organisation – with the leverage to increase your rates, flexibility and benefits.

Key takeaways

  • Driven by external pressure from governments and stakeholders, many companies are looking to reduce their carbon footprint – and fast.
  • As a result, demand for green tech roles will significantly increase in the next 18 months.
  • However, only 30-50% of the IT industry is trained in responsible digital practices.
  • This will result in a skills shortage, as demand is bound to outweigh supply.
  • Both contract and full-time IT professionals should therefore invest in their own green training and development, as these skills will increase their chances of being hired and their negotiating power in the years to come.
  • Companies, on the other hand, should start recruiting individuals with these skills as soon as possible – before increased competition makes this talent pool unattainable.

Discover how we can help: Find out more about our house of recruitment brands and how STEM professionals can help you energise progress.

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