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Going green without sacrificing job security: striking a balance

by Jennifer Teese

Going green without sacrificing job security: striking a balance

News in January that steel industry stalwart Tata Steel is set to close two of its South Wales blast furnaces before the end of the year, putting nearly 3,000 jobs at risk, sent shockwaves through the industrial heartlands of the region. Whilst initially citing environmental reasons behind the decision, aligning with the company’s ambitions to adopt to a more eco-friendly approach to steel-making, the company was soon met with criticism from trade unions after plans to open a new furnace in India were revealed. Still, it got us here at gap personnel thinking: how can industrial sector recruiters ensure we meet sustainability demands while safeguarding the livelihoods of our valued workforce?


In an era where sustainability has become paramount, the industrial landscape in particular is currently undergoing a huge transformation. With climate change posing a significant threat, the push towards a greener industrial landscape is both a necessity and an inevitability. Traditional machinery, once the backbone of manufacturing, is now recognised as a significant contributor to environmental decline, so the decision to transition to more modern equipment is not merely driven by corporate responsibility, but also by an actual need to mitigate the adverse impact on the world around us; after all, it’s cool to be kind (to the planet), right?


However, this transition cannot simply come at the expense of throwing the workforce under the bus. After all, entire communities rely on these industrial jobs, many of which have sustained whole generations of families for decades. And, as an industrial agency, we play a crucial role in facilitating the change, whilst prioritising worker welfare. It’s no easy feat – we often find ourselves navigating a tightrope, sourcing talent for industries striving to go green, while ensuring that our placements protect not just the environment, but the economic security of our workers as well. Finding the right balance needs some foresight, empathy, and a solid grasp of both corporate sustainability plans and real-world implications for employees.


The situation at Tata Steel serves as a stark reminder that while climate-action initiatives are absolutely commendable, they can’t be the sole focus. A "green transition" that sacrifices jobs isn’t a sustainable long-term solution – nor is it an ethical one. Instead, we need to take a broader approach, one that champions and prioritises retraining and upskilling programs to help workers move into more eco-friendly roles. This not only protects jobs but also ensures that companies have access to the skilled talent they need to advance their sustainability goals.


One area ripe with opportunity is automation and digitalisation within industrial processes. As companies gear up to be more environmentally conscious, automation will play a pivotal role in boosting efficiency and reducing waste. We need to be ahead of the curve and identify upskilling pathways to transition workers into these cutting-edge roles. From robotics technicians to industrial AI specialists, there is immense potential not just for environmental sustainability, but for protecting workers against job displacement.


It’s probably also a good idea if we double down on our advocacy efforts, working closely with policymakers, industry bodies, and unions to craft workforce transition roadmaps. These should incentivise companies to retrain and redeploy their existing workforce into green roles, rather than simply terminating jobs en masse.


The road ahead is undoubtedly challenging, but as industrial recruiters our job has never been more important. We must serve as the bridge between companies' ecological ambitions and workers' lived realities, ensuring that the goal of sustainability doesn't come at the cost of human capital. Only by striking this balance can we pave the way for a truly sustainable future – one that aligns ecological priorities with economic opportunities for everyone. Partner with us to map out your green transformation without compromising your workforce - we're committed to helping you anticipate industry trends, by pinpointing upskilling opportunities and sourcing talent primed for sustainable practices.