Capability building a priority for sustainability professionals

Research released today into New Zealand’s sustainability profession reveals there remains a significant capability gap for staff to support the operational changes businesses now require.

The report, Insights on Aotearoa New Zealand Sustainability Professionals 2024, delivered by Oxygen Consulting in collaboration with the Sustainable Business Council (SBC), Sustainable Business Network (SBN) and Auckland University of Technology (AUT), unpacks capability and competencies, remuneration, job opportunities, and overall wellbeing.

Of the sustainability professionals surveyed, only 10% believe existing training and development covers the skills needed in their role. More than half (54%) think that professional training is needed to keep up with the changing sustainability landscape.

Director of Oxygen Consulting Sarah Holden says the 2024 results show that the challenge around capability building is growing year-on-year.

“With business sustainability moving beyond traditional operational efficiency, organisations are requiring more specialist knowledge around integrating sustainability within their governance processes, strategy, and core products and services. This is an exciting time for companies to create a stronger, more impactful and embedded sustainability agenda that is shared across many roles.”

The survey data reflects that only 34% of sustainability professionals feel completely competent in their current role, down from 41% in 2023.

“We know that sustainability professionals on the whole feel confident in their ability, but this does not necessarily align with feeling equipped for the specific role they are in,” said Holden.  

SBC Executive Director Mike Burrell explains why these continued capability gaps should be of concern for business leaders.

“These results come at a time when more businesses are making a commitment to emissions reduction, and environmental and social good-related practices, but they also need to invest in the people side.

“As demand for this skillset grows, we must ensure those working in sustainability, or supporting with sustainability at their organisations, are able to keep up with the rate of change we are seeing in technology, legal frameworks, reporting and many other aspects.”

Dr Peter Skilling, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Management, Technology and Organisation in the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law at Auckland University of Technology, noted a jump in junior roles represented in this year’s responses.

“This indicates we’re moving in the right direction, with more young people finding career pathways in the industry. However, it’s a field that requires a mix of deep technical skills and people and engagement skills. Bridging the gap between academic learning and getting one’s first sustainability role is a critical enabler to building capacity, particularly for younger roles.

“Organisations should work with universities so that sustainability professionals can learn from international best practice and develop their knowledge, skills and connections.”

Improvements in wellbeing, diversity and gender pay gap

In positive news, employees with sustainability included in their role are reporting higher overall wellbeing when compared with other New Zealand professionals. Work demands and job stress have decreased in the last year and professionals working in sustainability are significantly more stable in their job than their peers in other professions across the motu.

The beginnings of more cultural diversity are reflected in this year’s survey results. Māori representation increased from 1% last year to 4% in 2024, and Pasifika representation is now at 1%.  Simultaneously, the gender pay gap has dropped with a 5.6% mean pay gap (compared to 9.2% for the year prior). Those identifying as female continue to have high representation, making up over two thirds of respondents.

SBN Chief Executive Rachel Brown acknowledges the improvements around diversity in this year’s results but believes there is still a long way to go.

“Decarbonisation, regeneration and tackling inequality all require the full spectrum of talent within our communities. Diversity is key and the contribution of Māori and Pacific knowledge is crucial for building a sustainable future.

“The future belongs to people who think differently. I encourage everyone to upskill, stay relevant, and make use of the free sustainability tools, resources and training available in the market.”

Now in its fifth year, Insights on Aotearoa New Zealand Sustainability Professionals is the only research of its kind in New Zealand. Download the full insights report here.

20 Jun, 2024

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