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Sustainability and natural resource management skills:


Since committing to the Paris Agreement in 2015/2016, Australia has engaged in reducing carbon emissions and combatting climate change.

In an effort to deal with the effects of climate change and improve sustainability, there is an increasing need for sustainability and natural resource management skills.

The 2009 Green Skills Agreement revised training packages to include ‘green skills’, and the cross-sector project on Environmental Sustainability Skills continued the empahsis on sustainability skills by aiming to identify duplication and gaps in sustainability skills which span industries.


COVID-19 impact

Several state and territory governments have introduced additional measures within their economic recovery plans that include the requirement to build sustainability and natural resource management skills. For example:

  • The Western Australian Government recovery plan includes The Green Jobs Plan, and three fee-free skill sets for young people and job seekers were announced in support of this plan.
  • The Queensland Government announced funding for 11 environmental projects in the Great Barrier Reef catchments, which are expected to support around 130 jobs.
  • The Jobs for Canberrans Fund supports a new team in the ACT Parks and Conservation Service to help maintain the Territory’s parks and reserves.
  • The Tasmanian Government, as part of its Jobs Plan, announced funding for a number of industries and projects related to sustainability and natural resource management, including for renewal energy, national parks, and waste management.

The notable reduction in pollution during the world-wide lockdown early in 2020, the climate change conference (deferred to 2021 due to the pandemic), and high unemployment has increased debate over sustainability and a need  – as stated by the OECD – to “build back better”. Australian examples of this discussion include the reports by the Clean Energy Council and the Climate Council, and the article Sustainable success for Australian business. Government economic stimulus funding, and industry responses to this debate along with conforming to the requirements of operating in a globalised economy, may prompt demand for sustainability and natural resource management skills at a higher rate than was seen prior to the pandemic.

Industry skills needs

Generic skills

In their comprehensive 2019 Skills Forecasts, IRCs ranked a series of 12 generic skill categories, in priority order.

Environmental sustainability skills (which aligns directly with Sustainability and natural resource management) received an average ranking of 11th (out of 12) across all skills forecasts.

Priority skills

Sustainability and natural resource management-related skills were also identified, but only in a few instances, by industries that reported on specific priority skills in their 2019 Skills Forecasts.

While not highly ranked across all industries, environmental sustainability is prioritised by the following handful of industries:

  • Food, Beverage and Pharmaceutical Product Manufacturing, which prioritises best practice recycling and waste minimisation, sustainable manufacturing processes, and responsible consumption of energy and minimisation of energy waste

  • Mining, Drilling and Civil Infrastructure and Process Manufacturing, particularly the Chemical, Hydrocarbons and Refining sector, which both prioritise environmental sustainability

  • Sustainability, which prioritises sustainable operations, generic skills related to manufacturing and sustainability, competitive systems and practices (increased focus on advanced manufacturing and sustainable manufacturing processes), energy management, use and procurement (options for maximising energy efficiency, increased focus on renewables technology) and environmental monitoring and technology.

  • Textiles, Clothing and Footwear, which prioritises ethical sourcing and supply chain management

    Internet job postings

    Internet job vacancy postings that contained requests for sustainability and natural resource management skills were examined for occupational trends. This includes land and resource management, environmental protection, water treatment, and environmental engineering. The chart below compares the percentage of internet job postings in each occupation (ANZSCO Major Group) that requested sustainability and natural resource management skills.

    Internet job postings that requested for sustainability and natural resource management skills, by occupation (2016-20) 

    Source: Burning Glass Technologies’ Labor Insight™ Real-time Labor Market Information tool.


    Sustainability and natural resource management skills are rarely directly requested in job postings. They are requested the most for managers and professionals and almost never for sales workers or community and personal service workers. This suggests employers will only request these skills when the job is environmentally focused.

    The following graphic shows examples of occupations where sustainability and natural resource management skills are highly requested, and some examples of the types of requests employers are making for those in these occupations.

    Occupations with sustainability and natural resource management skills requested are normally directly within an environmental field, such as environmental advice or management. They are also relevant for policy and planning positions where environmental concerns are a factor.

    Case study

    Food, Beverage and Pharmaceutical Product Manufacturing 

    The Food, Beverage and Pharmaceutical Manufacturing industries provide direct employment to more than 215,000 people and food and beverage products are central to the employment and sustainability of the agriculture, meat, seafood, wine, wholesale and retail, and tourism and hospitality industries. This industry includes:

    • Food processing and manufacturing
    • Beverage manufacturing
    • Pharmaceutical manufacturing
    • Nutraceutical manufacturing
    • Wholesaling and retailing.

    The Food, Beverage and Pharmaceutical IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast has identified sustainability as a priority, particularly best practice recycling and waste minimisation, sustainable manufacturing processes, and responsible consumption of energy and minimisation of energy waste. Changes in skills requirements for the sector’s workforce are being led by consumer and industry trends, and the regulatory environment, which is highlighted in the following quotes from the skills forecast:

    The food and beverage industry has experienced many key changes in the skills and tasks performed by the food processing workforce since 2011. These range from regulatory changes affecting food safety and manufacturing processes to trends in what consumers want to eat and drink. In particular, there is a need to consider…Sustainable work practices and efficient energy consumption.

    More advanced skills are required in more senior job roles, and can be driven by changing consumer trends, technological development and improvements in health and safety and regulation changes.

    The Australian food, beverage and pharmaceutical industry operates under a high level of regulation…Businesses signatory to the Australian Packaging Covenant, an agreement between government, industry and community groups, are obliged to find and fund solutions to address packaging sustainability issues.

    There are continuing and growing changes in consumer demand, and food and beverage trends that have influenced this Skills Forecast, including but not limited to: a desire for healthier, ‘clean’ and natural food, beverages and pharmaceutical products; interest in gluten-free, non-dairy and allergen-free foods, and personalised nutrition; the desire to know where food and beverages have come from and how it was transported and processed; the preference for ethical practices in food and beverage production; a desire to reduce the carbon footprint and environmental effects of food and beverage production and product transportation; a desire to reduce or manage waste, including food and beverage waste and packaging.

    Updated: 29 Apr 2021
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