Skills for the circular economy

May 24, 2022

The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development was held from 17 to 19 May 2021. At the end of the three-day event, over 80 ministers and vice ministers and 2,800 education, training and environment stakeholders committed to taking concrete steps to transform learning for the survival of our planet by adopting the Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

During the virtual event, UNESCO-UNEVOC hosted sessions on Green and Circular Economies and ESD in TVET. These sessions explored ways to restructure business processes in favour of the circular economy, strategies for education, training and industry to shift mindsets and nurture lifelong learning, and tools and approaches to mainstream ESD and climate education in TVET.

The circular economy supports the SDGs for people, prosperity and our planet

The circular economy, as explained by Catherine Weetman, Director of Rethink Global, is a concept already making waves in sustainability policy and practice, as evidenced by the global experiences shared at the conference. Panellists brought a range of perspectives: from policymaking and business, and from countries in the early stages of adoption to those already advancing circular approaches.

Walter Stahel, Founder and Director of the Product-Life Institute, Switzerland, reinforced the importance of caring for natural and human assets and enabling a circular economy through education and training. He elaborated on several key concepts in his writings, ’the era of R’ (re-use, repair, remanufacture) and ‘the era of D (de-construct, de-coat, de-laminate and so on)’, the former focusing on extending the service life of objects and the latter focusing on using innovative modern techniques to recover materials for re-use. The challenge of instigating these eras will involve policies which promote relevant education and training and encourage innovation.

Kumi Tashiro, Deputy Director of the Office of Environmental Education at the Japanese Ministry of the Environment highlighted Japan’s success as one of the early adopters of the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) principle as well as the circular approach and sharing economy that has helped to decarbonize its economy. Meanwhile, Margaret Mwakima, Principal Secretary of the State Department for Vocational and Technical Training at the Kenyan Ministry of Education discussed how Kenya is addressing pollution as a matter of national priority and is looking to ‘leapfrog’ from ‘take, make, waste and pollute’ to ‘use less, get more from less and use it again’. This direction is not far from what India is pursuing where material requirements outstrip supply, and where sectors like agriculture, automotive, construction and electronics stand to benefit from fully implementing a CE approach, noted Shyamal Majumdar, Chief Advisor at the Vivekananda Institute of Biotechnology, India.

How will the shift to circular economy affect skills and TVET?

The increasing importance of the circular economy will have a significant impact on the shape of jobs and competencies. New points of emphasis, as confirmed in a recent study by Circle Economy, will include ‘broad skills’ (also called transversal skills) such as digital and green literacy and problem solving, while also building ‘deep skills’ more related to specific functionalities or disciplines. Non-repetitive, circular jobs will emphasize skills such as product repair and maintenance or innovating the product design process to improve longevity.


The discussion at the conference confirmed the role of big companies and small-scale enterprises in business restructuring, as seen in the examples shared from Vaude Sports in Germany (through the use of materials recycled from post-consumer waste), Algramo in Chile (through the use of reusable packaging) and Circular Computing in UK/Middle East (through giving second life to re-manufactured laptops).

TVET has a critical role to play in the evolution of circular approaches to extend the service life of goods and close the loop. First and foremost, it must meet the demand for higher technical skills and provide crucial support for lifelong learning through upskilling as well as continuous and in-work learning. In addition, TVET needs to equip young people with the relevant entrepreneurial skills and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) competencies for green jobs in emerging sectors.

How do we teach circular skills?

Circular mindsets and skills must be addressed directly in the classroom, and this requires an investment in resources such as suitable training equipment, teacher training, resource libraries, and more. Nani Pajunen, Lead Specialist at SITRA, Finland, emphasized that the circular economy needs new kinds of skills, actions and operations. In the future, skills on repairing and maintaining will become critical.

Martin Wittau, Vice-President of the BVNG, Germany, indicated that sustainability must become a mandatory cross-over topic in vocational education and training qualifications frameworks, both in schools and in companies. This viewpoint was shared by Dina Mamdouh, Founder of the Alter Initiative, Egypt, who provided an example of architecture schools and the importance of teaching sustainability in building practices and development approaches.

The SDGs and Greening TVET

The challenges are multi-layered, and there is still a long road ahead to mainstream sustainability in TVET. As part of this process, UNESCO-UNEVOC supports TVET institutions in the development and implementation of green strategies to transform their learning and training environments, upskill professionals in green job sectors, re-skill those affected by job losses due to the green transition and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and seize opportunities for multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Find out more about UNESCO-UNEVOC’s work on the SDGs and Greening TVET here.


This article was written with input from Catherine Weetman, Founder of Rethink Global and Member of the Strategic Foresight Board for the Circular Economy Alliance (CEA)

Session recordings


Watch the session recording (recording in English starts at 3:36:20)

•Green and Circular Economies A (morning session)

Watch the session recording (recording in English starts at 2:30:38)

•Green and Circular Economies B (afternoon session)

Watch the session recording (recording in English starts at 2:16:52)


This article was originally published by UNESCO-UNEVOC on 15 June 2021. For more information about UNESCO-UNEVOC, please visit:

Submitted By: Circular Economy Alliance Team


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