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Aspiring 'green-collar' workers hope for jobs in Covid recovery

Farmers plant rice sprouts in a paddy field in Nakhon Sawan province, north of Bangkok May 4, 2008. [Reuters]

A Singapore-based website tapping into the growing demand for environmentally careers in Asia is hoping it would be the link to "meaningful" employments as countries try to revive economies hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The "Green Collar" portal, which lists jobs from renewable energy to farming and climate change, is billed as the first such initiative in Southeast Asia, a disaster-prone region that often comes under threats from floods to typhoons.

It started when its co-founder Heng Li Seng, who runs a social enterprise in Singapore on reducing waste and coastal cleanups since 2017, began to receive growing number of enquiries about sustainability-related jobs.

When Singapore's trade-reliant economy plunged into a recession in July, forcing some companies to cut jobs, he thought it was time to act.

"A lot of people are losing jobs and we figured if we want to help people to find jobs, it cannot be the same old jobs," the 32-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

"It has to be jobs of the future which provide an opportunity for longer-term meaningful impact," Heng said, adding that he hoped the initiative would bridge an information gap for job-seekers.

The portal currently has about 250 listings in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, with plans to gradually include job opportunities in other parts of the region.

While the listings are free for now, Heng said he is looking to potentially charge eventually.

"Putting (the green jobs) on a separate portal offers a higher chance that these jobs are taken up by qualified individuals," said Heng.

"By listing these jobs in a clearly defined manner, we also help companies starting to understand what it takes to have a sustainable role because some companies are looking to their peers."

The demand has been partly boosted by countries around the world pledging to a so-called green recovery, with stimulus measures aimed at revitalising their coronavirus-hit economies and fighting climate change at the same time.

Before the pandemic, the United Nations' International Labour Organization (ILO) projected 14.2 million green jobs could be created in Asia by 2030 if the region moved towards measures to slow global warming, such as boosting the use of renewable energy or electric vehicles.

Singapore said in August it would create 55,000 green jobs over the next decade in the environment and agriculture sectors, while South Korea in July pledged to spend $95 billion on green projects to boost the economy.

"It is encouraging to observe that governments, regions and local authorities in Asia-Pacific have started to discuss and enact climate-friendly and green recovery packages," said Cristina Martinez from the ILO in Bangkok.

She called for more investment in green jobs creation, saying the "devastating effects" from COVID-19 have shown the potential fallout from a climate emergency and the need for businesses to invest in greener developments.

"Green jobs creation will not happen automatically but it will happen by design," said Martinez, a senior specialist on the environment and decent work.


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