When demand meets shortage: skilled workers for the field of sustainability

© unsplash | Nick Fewings

The shortage of skilled workers has become the biggest risk for companies. It’s good if you can now present yourself as a sustainable company – because that increases your attractiveness enormously. But it’s bad if your own sustainability is not yet up to scratch. That would require not only a strategy, but also the right skilled workers. How do you solve this problem, achieve sustainability, make yourself attractive to the next generation and at the same time make a difference on the market? That’s what we want to show you.


Shortage risk of skilled workers

A recent study by Deloitte from October 2021 confirms that the shortage of skilled workers has become the greatest risk for companies – even ahead of rising raw material prices, increasing regulation and energy costs. The packaging industry is also affected by this predicament. Rubber and plastic processing companies as well as logistics companies are hit particularly hard.


Sustainability as a magnet

Companies that are perceived as future-proof and sustainable have a clear advantage in the search for skilled workers. Corresponding experience is also supported by the results of surveys such as the Future Talents Report 2020.


First the chicken or the egg?

But how do you solve the problem of being perceived as a sustainable company if you first need appropriately trained and capable “sustainability personnel” to establish sustainability in the company? And that is precisely what is not to be found.

This shortage situation has worsened over the past few years. No wonder, because the problem is growing to the extent that sustainability has steadily gained momentum in our industry and has now become a disruptive game changer. This has “naturally” led to the fact that the market for skilled workers, especially in the area of sustainability, has been depleted.

So why not start without the appropriate expertise in the team? Many companies, especially smaller ones, decide to do just that. However, they soon realize that they will be confronted with many new and previously unknown requirements right from the start. Attempts to integrate these new requirements into ongoing operations and to solve them first in addition to existing tasks are doomed to failure in most cases. This is because this approach is costly, but not very efficient and often erratic.


What it takes: Strategy

A major reason for the failure of many sustainability efforts is the lack of a clearly defined strategy as to exactly where the work should go and which stages should lead to which goal.

A 2020 trend study by Simon, Kucher & Partners for the paper and packaging sector bears this out: 84 percent of the companies surveyed are carrying out sustainability efforts, but a majority of 52 percent are doing so without a clear strategy and goal.


Anchoring sustainability

The search for experts with appropriate sustainability know-how is not just about a staff position. In order to really anchor sustainable management in the company, colleagues with special knowledge are needed, for example in purchasing and sales. A sustainability strategy must not be limited to the management level.

In addition to the strategy, the necessary organization must also be established in the company. We know firsthand how important and success-generating this is. Since 2007, we have been supporting large and small players in the packaging industry in setting up and implementing holistic sustainability strategies in the company.


Where can I find my expert?

Over the past few years, we have already seen a wide variety of ways in which companies look for their sustainability specialists. Often, the focus is on the outside. However, the relevant candidates inevitably lack industry and organizational experience as well as, in most cases, seniority, and thus the young, highly qualified graduates of specialized courses often quickly reach their limits in the function that is new for the company with experienced employees. Finally, poaching attempts from the competition are not possible in most cases.


Excursus: Where does the next generation of specialists study?

Something to do with environment! The terms sustainability manager or CSR manager are not protected, the training system is not standardized. One possibility is offered by special degrees, most of which have been established more recently.

  1. Lüneburg University of Applied Sciences has been offering a “Sustainability Management” degree program since 2003.
  2. At the Carl-von-Ossietzky-University Oldenburg there is a Bachelor “Sustainability Economics”.
  3. The Bochum College offers a Bachelor’s degree in “Sustainable Development”.
  4. The Zittau/Görlitz College offers a Bachelor’s degree in “Ecology and Environmental Protection”.
  5. The “Hochschule für nachhaltige Entwicklung” Eberswalde offers the master program Strategic Sustainability Management.


Our recommendation

Find employees in your company who are generically interested in the topic and “burn” for sustainability. It does not matter whether the person comes from quality management, the communications department or other teams. What is important is that the person is given sufficient time for the task, without this necessarily amounting to a full-time position.

Another crucial factor is that candidates must be able to acquire sufficient sustainability qualifications through continuing education. There are already corresponding offers – from the course for “Sustainability Manager” of the ZNU (Center for Sustainable Corporate Management) to offers of the Chambers of Industry and Commerce to further education modules of other sponsors.

A generic advantage can be further training offers that have been specially tailored for the packaging industry. B+P Consultants, together with the leading training company Innoform, have therefore developed a specific, modular offer for prospective sustainability managers.


Both! Chicken and egg

Which is in the nature of things: Sustainability expertise is not like riding a bike. Even after initial learning and familiarization, there is a continuous need for further training. The subject area of corporate and product sustainability is in massive flux. More and more new insights and requirements will be added in the coming years.

Nevertheless, the journey is worthwhile. Because the more sustainable the company becomes, the more sustainable it can present itself accordingly, the easier it will be to recruit further, even highly specialized employees for the area.

The success will feed itself and radiate to the whole company. Because sustainability is also becoming increasingly important for your customers. After quality and innovation, it is the next big cross-cutting issue with which you can make the difference in the market.

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    Jenny Walther-Thoß