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Circular economy already reshaping working life, building new skills on top of existing ones

The circular economy is revamping jobs in the technology, construction and chemicals industries. Learning, collaborative skills and digital know-how are becoming ever more important, according to a recent report by Sitra.


Antti Lehtinen

Specialist, Communications and Public Affairs


The transition to a carbon-neutral circular economy Agroecological symbiosis A co-operation network of farms and other operators, aimed at self-sufficient production in terms of energy and nutrients. One example of a plan for such co-operation is that between a farm, a poultry farm, a local bakery and a biogas plant in Hyvinkää. Open term page Agroecological symbiosis is in full swing, boosted by the European Green Deal and national targets.

The circular economy will have a significant impact on work and, above all, the skills needed. Sitra’s report The impact of the circular economy on jobs and skills examines how the circular economy transition is reflected in three Finnish sectors and the sorts of skills required for circular economy jobs.

The sectors examined in the report – technology, construction and chemicals – are all at the heart of the circular economy. As the transition speeds up, skills needs are also changing. This entails different things for different jobs and different sectors.

“Although the content of most jobs will change, the most important skills requirements will still be related to the basic competences of each sector. The net change in workplaces is expected to be positive”, says Eero Jalava, Senior Lead at Sitra who led the study.

Job-specific circular economy skills are being built on top of basic skills, for example through on-the-job learning, further training or circular economy study modules.

“Job titles would seem to remain largely the same, but their content is changing. Job descriptions are expanding, and teams combining diverse skills, and collaboration between different actors will become more common going forward. The transition to a circular economy requires above all the ability to learn new things”, Jalava explains.

Skills requirements in the circular economy are often sector and job-specific

In the chemicals industry, the circular economy transition requires new skills in the processing and sourcing of recycled raw materials.

The Sitra report includes skills profiles for each sector, providing practical examples of circular economy jobs. In the chemicals industry, professionals employed as operators may be dealing with new materials: for instance, biowaste can be processed into raw materials important for the chemicals industry.

In the technology sector, future skills needs include circular economy design skills, digital skills and new skills’ combinations. For example, product designers must have broad circular economy skills and the ability to take into account a wider range of different and more stringent requirements for a product or service.

A sales manager, on the other hand, encounters the circular economy in new kinds of customer relationships with the wider shift to circular economy business models, such as rental and maintenance services and providing products as services.

In the construction sector, skills needs emphasise lifecycle thinking in everything from design and materials’ development to renovation and demolition and collaboration between different actors and projects. The change will become visible throughout the value chain, with procurement focusing on recycled raw materials or building components, and taking demolition into account in building design.

In the future, site managers will not only oversee quality and safety but also the on-site implementation of the circular economy.

Collaboration and digital skills needed across all sectors

As we move towards a circular economy, sectors will become increasingly intertwined. For example, raw materials can be sourced from the side streams of other sectors. Work will therefore be increasingly done in teams that combine skills from different fields and activities.

The transition to a circular economy often requires digital solutions. Digital product passports will help to collect and share data on the characteristics of products and the materials they contain. In general, digitalisation is expected to become integral to all operations in all sectors. Meeting skills needs will require more training in circular economy and related digital skills, including in educational institutions, at different levels of education and in the workplace.

“Anticipating skills needs and training will help us be successful in a changing world. There is already a shortage of expertise in circular economy and other sustainability solutions in many sectors. We need to identify future skills needs today so that we can respond to change in time”, concludes Eero Jalava.

The impact of the circular economy on jobs and skills report is based on interviews with representatives of Finnish companies and industry, workshops and research literature. The report was produced by Gaia Consulting Oy.

See also Sitra’s working paper How does the circular economy change jobs in Europe?

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