Fixing the talent gap to deliver on ESG goals
The 2021 COP26 United Nations Climate Change conference addressed the biggest challenge that humanity faces. Outcomes included promises of greater financial support for developing countries; closing the emissions gap; and finalizing guidelines for the full implementation of the Paris Agreement. There’s no doubt that the time to act is now.
Central to addressing climate change and meeting these crucial goals is a people-powered approach.
Corporates have their part to play. But businesses need ESG & sustainability experts and face a dearth of ESG talent. It’s vital we start to create a generation of “Sustainability Solutioneers”, cultivating a pipeline of graduates who are equipped with the right transferable skills and expertise to help achieve ESG goals and to make a difference.
Our expert panel discussion at COP26, jointly hosted by the University of Glasgow, invited views from the corporate sector, education, and the business community (Chamber of Commerce) on ESG skills for both existing leaders and students.
Facilitated by Alexandra Ghashghai, a Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry, we discussed the need to create tomorrow’s Sustainability Solutioneers.
Alexandra was joined by Moira Fischbacher-Smith, Vice Principal Learning & Teaching at University of Glasgow; Dr Nicola Crawford, Program Director of Developing the Young Workforce, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce; Janelle Orozco, Chief Procurement Officer at Diageo; and Andrew Lowe, Senior Client Partner, Korn Ferry.
Developing talents from a school age to drive sustainability in the workplace is crucial. It’s our responsibility to ensure that our school children and graduates develop the core competencies and are given the tools they need to make to drive the ESG goals that will make a difference to our world.
Recruitment teams need to start looking at the whole person rather than academic qualifications, including less traditional, softer “meta” skills, which are key for ESG & sustainability roles. These include:
“How you collaborate with others, influence others and listen to different perspectives is very applicable to sustainability in a corporate environment. Sustainability now touches every part of an organization, from finance to investments, marketing and brand, and procurement for example. As well as demonstrating resiliency and the ability to change,” explains Janelle Orozco.
The problem is that, until recently, many of these skills haven’t been taught or measured in any formal way. Pioneering universities have spotted this gap and are reshaping their curriculum.
Moira Fischbacher-Smith explains how the University of Glasgow is changing the shape of learning in partnership with prospective employers, bringing different disciplines together and including more work-related learning objectives: “We’re supporting students to think about the consequences of the work we are doing now so that it’ll have a positive impact on the future. We’re creating learning and teaching environments where students can explore questions, challenge knowledge and look at the world from multiple perspectives.”
A cross-border, partnership approach is key to developing emerging talent and giving them the skills to drive and achieve ESG goals. Schools and universities are starting to collaborate to create a talent pipeline.
“We’re seeing a huge increase in the need for sustainability roles, but there’s definitely a gap in matching people into these roles,” comments Dr Nicola Crawford. She’s working with industry, local schools and the University of Glasgow to develop new and emerging sustainability roles, helping businesses take the agenda forward and achieve their ESG goals. “We’ve brought industry straight into schools. We’re matching businesses with every school in Glasgow as a “Climate Hero”, to focus on sustainably and develop the skills needed,” explains Dr Crawford. More collaboration between industry and education is key.
As a new field, ESG roles have limited past experiences for practitioners to learn from. Bright, passionate and enthusiastic candidates may become quickly disillusioned by a lack of support or ingrained mindsets within a business. These ESG roles have some of the highest turnaround rates because individuals aren’t met with access or openness.
Korn Ferry is partnering with educational establishments and corporates to develop an ESG & sustainability framework with policies and procedures that make a business case for ESG roles.
Add to this, efforts to improve workforce diversity and develop a culture of inclusivity, and businesses start to create a setting where talent can thrive, voices are heard and driven individuals can reach their potential.
As well as a pipeline of potential ESG and sustainability leadership talent coming through universities and business schools, there’s a wealth of untapped talent already within organizations.
Sustainability leaders need certain skills to succeed. If a business sits and waits for qualified sustainability leaders to come along, they will have missed the boat. They need to go with who they have, encourage them and move forward.
Strong sustainability leaders are also:
Korn Ferry identifies three typical Chief Sustainability Officer archetypes (below), with the most successful CSOs fitting comfortably in all three:
CSO's need to create a huge sense of momentum across the business. They are resilient, persistent and determined to drive the change – not side-tracked.
CSO's have to believe they can find a path to sustainability and secure a positive outcome. They are confident in their ability when facing complex problems such as creating a sustainable future, but more measured in their approach.
Impactful CSOs are mission-driven. They seek to create an environment of collaboration and co-operation across boundaries. They develop partnerships with suppliers and even with competitors as they believe they are stronger together. They create a work environment where staff share a strong purpose and feel valued. Servant Leaders are happy to embrace a bottom-up drive towards change.
While this is still a relatively new field, best practice for retaining ESG & sustainability talent is similar to other areas. From embracing volunteers and supporting them to offering stretch assignments, businesses need to be more confident taking risks with people to achieve their ESG goals.
“We need innovators who will take risks, challenge the status quo and ask the difficult questions,” says Andrew Lowe.
Open-minded and progressive sustainability leaders should look internally to encourage staff to learn new skills and collaborate between departments to share best practice. They also need to offer education opportunities, including reskilling and repurposing. Janelle Orozco explains: “In our experience, retaining sustainability talent is all about making sure people want to feel valued at work and enjoy themselves. Creating a positive culture is the biggest thing that will retain people. It’s about companies ensuring they live their purpose and really want to have a positive impact on society – that’s when people thrive.”
The most successful leaders enable sustainability champions across the entire corporation, encouraging those who want to get involved, supporting ideas, providing training and communicating action.
As Korn Ferry’s Andrew Lowe comments, “We don’t need sustainability people, we just need people. Organizations and Individuals need to take collective responsibility and run with it.”
Expectations on business in terms of their environmental and societal impact have never been greater.
Climate change is bigger than any of the obstacles we’ve seen before. To be successful, businesses need to recruit and encourage Sustainability Solutioneers who are committed to driving change and achieving ESG goals, have a voice and can be heard.
The most successful Sustainability Solutioneers have a true sense of purpose and are safe in the knowledge that the entire business is behind them. Businesses need to consider how their people are going to shape the path to success and give them the opportunity to do so.
Watch the full COP26 panel discussion on Building the ESG talent pipeline.
Check out our latest insight paper ‘A people powered solution to climate change’.