At the first day of a significant POLITICO event, a leading Member of the European Parliament (MEP) highlighted a critical challenge facing the European Union’s green industry ambitions: the acute shortage of qualified workers. This issue was brought into sharp focus during a discussion on the EU’s strategies to enhance its cleantech sector.
MEP Tsvetelina Penkova, spearheading the work on the Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA) for the center-left Socialists & Democrats, emphasized the severity of Europe’s skilled labor shortage. Earlier this year, the European Commission unveiled the NZIA as part of a broader initiative to bolster the EU’s cleantech sector, amid concerns over losing manufacturing capabilities to global competitors like China and the United States.
“The qualified labor force in Europe is so limited that we can’t even further develop [the industry] we already have here,” Penkova stated at the POLITICO event. Her comments underscored the growing realization that workforce issues might be a more significant barrier than previously acknowledged.
Penkova further noted, “To be honest, we have probably the best regulatory framework. In terms of funding, we’re sitting on money.” She was referring to the unutilized loans under the EU’s COVID recovery framework, highlighting that despite having regulations and funds in place, the lack of skilled personnel renders progress challenging.
In her defense of the European Parliament’s proposed amendments to the Commission’s version of the NZIA, Penkova advocated for a shift from an EU-wide list of “strategic net-zero technologies” to a more flexible approach. This approach would allow individual countries to identify specific projects as strategic, such as retraining the workforce, tailoring solutions to their unique needs.
The discussion also touched upon the Commission’s estimates, which suggest that achieving the EU’s renewable energy target will necessitate the creation of over 3.5 million jobs by 2030. This figure is triple the current workforce in the renewable sector, further highlighting the urgency of addressing the skilled labor shortage.
This conversation at the POLITICO event brings to light the critical intersection of labor market dynamics and the EU’s ambitious green industry goals, underscoring the need for strategic planning and investment in human capital to realize these objectives.