African insights: TVET systems and the changing world of work - the green transition

Stephanie Allais, 2023


This article is based on a 2021 BILT-commissioned Scoping Study of TVET trends in Africa1. It explores challenges regarding the need for TVET to support a green and just transition in Africa. The BILT scoping study suggests that actors and tools within skill systems are struggling to make meaning of the green transition beyond rhetorical commitment. Similarly to discussions on the digital transition, the need to upskill and retrain people to meet demands of emerging green jobs and adjusting for changing occupations is seen to be obvious, and yet low levels of funding for providing e.g. renewable energy skills and other green technologies constrain change. There is a lack of capacity in TVET systems, and a lack of insight into how economies will change, and therefore what skills will be needed, particularly at intermediate skills levels.

There is a need for considerable technical knowledge across sectors (water, energy, biodiversity) as well as adaptive management skills.

TVET and environmental challenges in Africa

The need for skills to support a transition to a green economy in low- and middle-income countries is seen as an important enabling factor for a just transition. Strengthening training pathways into new and changing occupations, at the same time as formalizing occupations so that people can access work that is regulated, formalized, and well-paid, is seen as key to ensuring no one is left behind in this transition. Since the need for transition towards a sustainable economy is pervasive and horizontal across economic activities, more general ‘green’ skills are defined as those needed by the workforce, in all sectors and at all levels, to help the adaptation of the products, services and processes to the changes due to both climate change and environmental requirements (OECD and European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, 2014).

In terms of new skills needs, Kwauk and Casey (2021) present a framework for a ‘new green learning agenda’2 within which they classify skills needs as:

  1. Skills for green jobs: skills aimed at fulfilling the requirements of green jobs and supporting the transition to a low-carbon green economy.
  2. Green life skills: cross-cutting skills that serves both technical, instrumental, and adaptive transformative ends.
  3. Skills for a green transformation: adaptive skills aimed at transforming unjust social and economic structures.

They classify along a continuum whereby (1) and (2) are ‘instrumental’ and (2) and (3) are ‘transformative’. TVET could play a critical role in providing skills across this continuum.

However, the newness of the environmental sector and the rapidly changing nature of environmental knowledge places constraints on TVET practitioners and policy-makers. There is a need for considerable technical knowledge across sectors (water, energy, biodiversity) as well as adaptive management skills. This is in a context in which, according to Jahonga et al., (2015), Africa’s TVET systems are characterized by low skill levels among instructors of green technology and a lack of green technologies and green skills. The key questions become how to prepare the TVET system and its stakeholders to be able to anticipate these new skills needs and to be able to deliver them? This is particularly challenging as it must be done at the same time as adapting the TVET sector itself, to meet new environmental standards in terms of infrastructure and operation.

The BILT Africa Scoping Survey found strong recognition of the need to focus on greening African economies, and recognition among role players that this has implications for new skills and new/changing occupations. As discussed in African TVET systems and the changing world of work: the digital transformation, the survey asked respondents to select the three economic sectors with the greatest need for new qualifications: 90% selected ‘Agriculture, forestry, and fishing’, 74% selected ‘Construction, manufacturing, mining and quarrying’; and 67% selected ‘Information and communication’.
When asked whether the sectors they viewed as priority had specific competency requirements for greening the economy, they gave the answers presented in Figure 1 below. 84% either indicated that these competencies were ‘emerging as a priority’ (46%) or were ‘newly emerging’ (38%).

When asked about the specific competencies required for greening the economy, respondents gave general responses, such as ‘new green jobs’ or ‘agriculture’. Only 7 surveyed (of 223), mentioned a specific occupation, namely systems and installation specialists for solar energy. One mentioned a photovoltaic initiative, and three mentioned renewable energy in general. Potentially linked to manufacturing, one respondent mentioned renewable energy technology, and specifically ‘inverter design and construction’. A few respondents said: ‘gas and oil’ without relating to greening the economy. While the agriculture sector was highlighted as a priority, few respondents gave any specific competencies required to transition the sector. One hypothesis for this lack of specificity is many African TVET systems separate agricultural education from the mainstream TVET providers.

Nonetheless, the BILT Africa Scoping Survey picked up four predominant types of answers relevant to how to respond to the ‘green’ transition in TVET:

  1. institutional greening responses that included greening the campus, curriculum, community, research and culture. No single intervention included all these elements. Kenya, South Africa and Mauritius specified efforts linked to greening the campus and attempts at greening curriculum.
  2. introduction of short courses around an ‘employable skill’ e.g. to install, repair and maintain solar geysers. Such skills are linked to gaining a certificate rather than being an entry to an occupation. They are often sponsored by the donor community, with little engagement in identifying how to link with existing occupations, or how to integrate into formal qualifications and provision.
  3. integration of generic ‘green’ skills into traditional TVET programmes e.g. by examining a sector like hospitality and integrating general sustainability skills and knowledge that industry will require.
  4. creation of new programmes and qualifications on e.g. renewable energy technologies. This may require new curriculum packages, training of lecturers, new equipment and new teaching and learning methods.

As with digitalization, the challenge to design and implement a just transition reveals weaknesses of skills anticipation systems, and a lack of capacity to overcome the time-lag between identifying new skills and integrating them into curricula and qualifications, and to embed skills adjustment processes in processes of economic change.

Insights from more recent research: the South Africa energy skills road map

Three recent studies highlight challenges of thinking about ‘green skills’ in the African context. One examined skill needs to support energy transitions: including the introduction of renewable energy, regional grid integration and energy efficiency initiatives. It was undertaken in six South African Development Community (SADC) countries (REAL Centre, 2022). The study found little planning for skills, little coordination, and little focus on regional grid integration or energy efficiency. In terms of regional grid integration, it is not an immediate skills priority because of political dynamics. The main political focus is on renewables rather than supporting public infrastructure investments and technology change. The transition is being driven by industry and international partners, with African countries positioned mainly as users. At community level, there are small interventions but there is no national plan to look at energy at community levels in any of the countries.

Two other studies, one looking at key trends in South Africa only (SANEA, 2023), and one looking at renewable energy in Mauritius and circular economies in the Seychelles, found similar trends (REAL Centre, 2023).

Across the three studies, a key insight is that to the extent to which there is a focus on skills, it is on specific technical skills, and not about transitioning systems. There is a conflation of skills required for jobs (the technical knowledge needed by a technician for a specific job) and the need to understand how the green transition is expected to support social and environmental justice. Finally, there is insufficient analysis of which jobs are changing and how, versus where there will be new jobs. The emphasis tends often to be on the latter, but there is also substantial need for the former. Too often the focus is on introducing new qualifications rather than examining and changing existing curricula.

Are economies in Africa transitioning to a greener version leading to new jobs?

Economies and labour markets show limited transition: most jobs and work opportunities are not long-term, nor do they meet the definition of ‘decent’ in ILO terms3, nor are they ‘green’. This is concerning because a drastically changing climate and temperature increases in the context of poverty and a high dependence on the exploitation of natural resources for livelihoods necessitate substantial change in African economies (Afful-Koomson, 2012). Understanding how and where change can be best initiated in African economies characterized by high levels of informality with a low propensity for large public sector investment is challenging.

Mwaura and Glover (2021) argue that target sectors for green jobs in low- and middle-income countries would be quite different from those that would be appropriate in wealthy countries. In the developed world, the emphasis is on decarbonization and reductions in material consumption, but African nations should have leeway to emphasize job creation and increases in material consumption to alleviate poverty. How to square this circle is little debated.

Some examples of green labour market policies which have had a positive impact are presented in a 2021 ILO report. In Zambia, two years into the implementation of its Green Jobs Programme, there was a reported increase in the quality of 2,018 existing jobs, as well as the creation of 2,660 green jobs. Kenya and Uganda, through their Green Entrepreneurship Development Programme, have created green enterprises that produce green goods and services (ILO, 2021).

Megwai, Njie, and Richards (2017) also documented successes in the green economic strategies and policies of Kenya and Ethiopia. In Kenya, energy, tourism, agriculture, transport, water, waste and ICT were the target sectors, resulting in additional income and employment as well as diversifying electricity generating sources. In Ethiopia, the target sectors were agriculture, forestry, electrical power, transport, building and industry. Reported results included increased efficiency of energy production, reduction in deforestation rates and an increase in sustainable forest management practices. In South Africa, green economy investments have shown to have had a positive impact on reducing carbon emissions, lowering fossil-fuel dependence, and contributing to the use of natural resources in a sustainable manner (Musango, Brent and Bassi, 2014).

Other sustainability responses in, for example, Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, focused on shifting technologies within large-scale industry (e.g. Renewable Energy Technology and Green Hydrogen Economy). These responses tended to exclude local stakeholders and communities and had fewer local economic benefits.

How economies in Africa can make a green and just transition where governments are not positioned to lead large-scale public infrastructure investments (including in TVET systems to meet ‘green’ industrial skills needs) is little researched.

Moving the green transition forward, faster with new skills

Whilst there is agreement from policy-makers on the need for education and training systems to support the green transition across the educational landscape, there is little analysis on how to define and promote skills for different ‘green’ work opportunities at different skills levels. Neither is there robust analysis of how current occupations are changing to understand changing intermediate skills needs (Ramsarup, 2019). Even less exists on defining what every citizen should know and understand to be a ‘green’ citizen.

Research and analysis are needed to understand what needs to be done at local/community level, and at national and international level to collect data, analyze, discuss and propose what is required by policy-makers, industry and the TVET community to meet the multiple challenges of adapting to, and mitigating for, environmental change, risks and new technologies within the African context. Research is required to share knowledge, pilot new approaches, and evaluate what works.

Specifically in relation to TVET, the BILT Africa Scoping Survey pointed to a need for a more integrated and iterative notion of skills planning, with more direct and ongoing engagement with economic actors, as discussed in Insights into employer engagement in skills anticipation in African TVET systems. What is a priority is working out what is suitable in the African context to strengthen TVET institutions to be active participants in research, analysis and discussion and where new ideas can emerge and be tested.

Finally, more thought needs to go into the broader context of what a ‘just’ green transition for African economies looks like. This includes thinking about the process of the transition: who is leading change; who is involved; and how will people be affected.

The purpose of the Atlas is to shed light on the trends experienced across TVET systems in Africa, Asia and the Pacific and Europe while pinpointing examples of how some of the challenges discussed above are addressed.

  1. Carried out by the Centre for Researching Education and Labour at the University of Witwatersrand, lead author Stephanie Allais




Afful-Koomson, T. 2012. ‘Governance challenges for promoting the green economy in Africa’, Green economy and good governance for sustainable development: opportunities, promises and concerns. United Nations University Press, Tokyo, pp. 136–160.

ILO 2021. Kenya and Uganda: Green entrepreneurship development. Available at: (Accessed: 29 November 2021).


Kwauk, C. and Casey, O. 2021. Approaches to quality education for climate action, p. 103.

Megwai, G., Njie, N. and Richards, T. 2017. ‘Exploring green economy strategies and policies in developing countries’, International Journal of Green Economics, 10, p. 338. Available at:

Musango, J.K., Brent, A.C. and Bassi, A.M. 2014. ‘Modelling the transition towards a green economy in South Africa’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 87, pp. 257–273. Available at:

Mwaura, G. and Glover, D. 2021. Green Jobs for Young People in Africa: Work in Progress. INCLUDE Evidence Synthesis Paper, July 2021.

OECD and European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training 2014. Greener Skills and Jobs. OECD (OECD Green Growth Studies). Available at:

Ramsarup, P. 2019. ‘Greening occupations and green skills analysis’, in Green Skills Research in South Africa. Routledge, pp. 175–191.

REAL Centre 2022. An assessment of skills supply and demand for renewable energy, energy efficiency and regional energy integration in the SADC region. Research report produced for the International Labour Organisation. Johannesburg: Centre for Researching Education and Labour, University of the Witwatersrand.

REAL Centre 2023. A rapid skills needs assessment in marine-based renewable energy (Mauritius) and the circular economy (Seychelles). Report produced for the International Labour Organisation. Johanesburg: Centre for Researching Education and Labour, University of the Witwatersrand.

SANEA 2023. South Africa Energy skills roadmap. Johanesburg: South African National Energy Association. Available at:

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