How cities are using the green economy to solve Europe’s employment crisis

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Glasgow's Green Wardens scheme helps provide opportunities for the long-term unemployed. [Ian Dick/Flickr]

Green Week opens today with a focus on greener cities: how can we make our cities more sustainable and liveable, asks Anna Lisa Boni.

Anna Lisa Boni is the secretary-general of EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities.

Europe is in the midst of an employment crisis. Many, and especially the most vulnerable people in our societies, are finding it extremely difficult to find jobs. The green sector, meanwhile, is among Europe’s most promising in terms of economic development. It has continued to grow despite the financial crisis and is expected to generate 20 million new jobs by 2020.

In February this year, mayors of major European cities met European Commissioners Marianne Thyssen and Elżbieta Bieńkowska to discuss the crucial role cities play in addressing the employment crisis. They called for better partnerships between the EU institutions, member states and cities to deliver policies that work for people on the ground. Reiterating the messages of the EUROCITIES Declaration on Work, they emphasised the potential of integrated service delivery and tools such as public procurement to build more inclusive labour markets.

The job creation potential of the green economy brings with it opportunities to reduce poverty. Yet the importance of connecting vulnerable groups to skills in growing economies, including the green sector, is often overlooked. Examples from our cities demonstrate that well-designed local authority programmes that support people in gaining green skills increase the chances of finding work even for those furthest away from the labour market.

Cities achieve this through a variety of means. Successful programmes provide tailored, individual support to meet the specific needs, capacities and interests of each participant. Since city administrations have intimate knowledge of local companies and market demands, they ensure that the training provided is linked to employment opportunities in the local economy. Glasgow’s ‘Green Wardens’ scheme is a traineeship programme within the city council providing long-term unemployed people with an opportunity to gain work experience on various greening and sustainability projects. Since the green economy is continuously growing in the area, the scheme gives people a chance to take advantage of these new opportunities.

In addition to training, vulnerable people need a chance to gain real work experience to enable them to compete in the mainstream labour market. For this, cities create programmes with work placements and some use public procurement to create employment opportunities for disadvantaged people. In Rennes Metropole public procurement was used to set up a ‘back to work’ programme for people who face barriers to employment within a company that is responsible for the collection and recycling of city waste, and carries out a range of other awareness-raising and recycling improvement activities that make the city greener. We welcome the fact that the new EU directives on procurement provide a good framework for promoting social responsibility through public contracts.

Cities are strategically placed to promote partnerships between various private and non-profit organisations. This ensures that the right knowledge and expertise is brought to the table, increasing the effectiveness of programmes. For instance, Antwerp’s EcoHouse works with a social economy association to organise work experience placements and training for people with low qualifications and the long-term unemployed. They perform energy audits and energy saving advice services for low income households. To reach those households, EcoHouse works with welfare, housing, education, migrant and community organisations across the city.

Cities see the green economy as an opportunity to tackle some of Europe’s major societal and environmental challenges. Green jobs are not easily outsourced and as such tend to stay local. Investing in skills for this growing sector is important to avoid future shortfalls. Providing vulnerable people with skills for jobs in the growing green economy is a sustainable route out of poverty and can eventually lead to the creation of inclusive labour markets, but as shown above, unlocking this potential needs well-designed public intervention.

With the European Commission set to launch its New Skills Agenda for Europe, we believe strong involvement from European cities is crucial for the success of this major initiative aimed at promoting skills development, supporting vocational training and higher education, and maximising the potential of digital jobs.

It is fitting that today also marks the launch of the Pact of Amsterdam, establishing an urban agenda for the EU. We hope this new framework will enable greater involvement of cities in EU policy making and better coordination of policies with an urban dimension.

A partnership on jobs and skills in the local economy would enable the EU institutions, member states and cities to work together to deliver results faster for those that need them most. We will be discussing how this partnership could take shape together with the EU institutions, social partners and stakeholders at an event in Rotterdam on 21 September: ‘Skilling up for jobs and cities: making the most of the urban agenda for the EU’.

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