Filling Taiwan’s Green Job Gap

Government and universities are making efforts to equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge to meet Taiwan’s sustainability job needs.


In a survey by American multinational ManpowerGroup, companies globally were asked about the challenges related to finding talent in their operational areas. Worryingly, Taiwan emerged in both 2022 and 2023 as the top market with shortages. A high 88% and 90% of Taiwan employer respondents reported difficulties with talent acquisition, surpassing the global average of 75% and 77%, respectively. Reasons listed by Taiwanese companies included the shrinking working population and skill gaps between candidates and job vacancies.  

Although talent scarcity is apparent across the board, an area with a particularly prominent supply-demand imbalance is that of sustainability. Prior to the opening of the 2023 UN climate conference COP28, Taiwan’s Ministry of the Environment recognized a significant shortage of qualified professionals tasked with certifying the carbon footprints of businesses.  

Moreover, a survey conducted by nonprofit B Lab Taiwan examining the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) found that more than 80% had not employed dedicated ESG staff. Companies cited lack of talent and cost considerations as the main reasons. 

Difficulties filling ESG-related job openings are not due to a lack of interest among new entrants to the job market. In fact, many report being drawn to jobs that are perceived as having a positive impact on the planet – research by Greenpeace Taiwan found that up to 90% of Taiwanese youth (aged 18-40) are interested in pursuing “green-collar jobs.” However, 40% of them said they are uncertain about the nature of these jobs, and 70% expressed concerns that their chosen majors may not be relevant to such positions. 

National Taiwan University biodiversity students make a field visit to Pinglin to enhance their practical skills.

For students, cultivating skills through university courses is the key to finding green job opportunities. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, green jobs generally refer to “jobs that contribute to preserving or restoring the environment.” This broad definition could include academic disciplines such as atmospheric science, technology, environmental engineering, social sciences, law, and business administration. Naturally, there are almost an endless number of cross-disciplinary fields of study that could also be considered environment-related.  

Qin Shu-huai, a research director at Greenpeace Taiwan, emphasizes the importance of tailoring ESG education and skills development to different industries. For example, skills needed for the chemical industry differ significantly from those needed for the textile industry, he says. Furthermore, due to limited training resources among SMEs, job seekers without relevant experience find it challenging to adapt to the workplace. 

“The government’s talent development efforts are akin to assembling a puzzle,” says Chiou Ren-jie, deputy director of the Department of Information and Technology Education under the Ministry of Education (MOE). “Every piece must be put together.”  

Chiou says a major challenge is the competition for talent among industries. “After undergoing talent cultivation, many individuals pursue careers in the ICT (information and communication technology) industry. With insufficient talent choosing to work as an energy professional, how could our country reach net zero?” 

Multilayered approaches 

The government is now actively evaluating policy gaps impeding Taiwan’s energy transition, according to the MOE’s Chiou. One strategic approach involves the establishment of university-level centers dedicated to providing practical training to enhance students’ “green skills.” 

An illustrative case is a program at National Dong Hwa University tackling issues related to Taiwan’s electricity grid system. For its electricity needs, Taiwan relies on a large-scale power grid, which has historically led to the neglect of remote, rural areas. As the share of renewable energy in the grid increases, the development of microgrids for efficient electricity storage and immediate use becomes crucial.  

Chiou Ren-jie, deputy director of the Department of Information and Technology Education, says more energy talent is needed to help Taiwan achieve its net-zero ambitions.

Many underserved rural areas are located in Hualien County, where Dong Hwa University is based, making the program particularly relevant and meaningful to these students. By employing problem-based learning methods, students prepare to tackle real-world challenges while developing vital green skills. 

In addition to cultivating energy professionals, the MOE emphasizes the importance of cross-disciplinary training and the development of energy literacy across departments unrelated to energy. The Taiwan Energy-Sustainable Energy Creative Implementation Competition is one event organized with this objective in mind. Participants from diverse academic backgrounds, including chemical engineering, finance, and aviation, were part of the 2023 edition, held at the National Science and Technology Museum in Kaohsiung.   

Organizer Hsiau Shu-san says the competition is designed to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration, enabling participants to address challenges and devise practical solutions for sustainable energy development. One notable example involved a group that had noticed the tendency among office workers and students to eat out due to time and budget constraints. While this habit saves time, eating out has a greater environmental impact than cooking at home. To address this issue, the team devised an integrated proposal called “My GreenChen,” encompassing a shared kitchen equipped with green energy technology.  

Hsiau says more should be done to emulate a holistic approach to education in general. In today’s world, sustainability is an issue that requires interdisciplinary knowledge and skills, he says.   

Lo Min-hui, director at National Taiwan University’s International Degree Program in Climate Change and Sustainable Development (IPCS), says his approach to course design aims to mitigate perceived irrelevance of traditional degree courses. One of the program’s goals is to provide students from different fields with a shared foundation of knowledge to facilitate cross-domain collaboration. 

“We are not only teaching students how to interpret Shakespeare but also guide them to create their own plays,” says Lo. By adopting a flexible approach integrating research and practical methods, the program encourages creativity and critical thinking. The goal of this initiative is to equip students with academic knowledge and practical skills that can be applied beyond the university gates. 

The program features a mandatory course focused on climate data analysis. Lo says that while students in social sciences and humanities may not initially grasp the underlying principles and methods used in data analysis, their proficiency in data interpretation and application is expected to improve as they advance through the course. The course also offers hands-on learning experiences, enabling students to delve into the impact of climate change across different industries. 

Chih Hsiang-lin, director of the Center for
Corporate Sustainability at NTPU.

For its part, National Taipei University (NTPU) has formed a partnership with Cathay Financial Holdings to facilitate academia-industry collaboration. Through this partnership, NTPU utilizes its unique sustainability evaluation system named SEED (Social, Economic, and Environment Disclosure) to produce research reports that are designed to encourage sustainable business practices and bridge the gap between investment institutions and listed companies.  

“The financial sector is critical to advancing progress on environmental and social issues because that is where the funding comes from,” says Chih Hsiang-lin, director of the Center for Corporate Sustainability at NTPU. Chih adds that the university is also working with Taiwan Index Plus to develop ESG indexes tracking listed companies.   

Chan Chang, a professor at the center, notes that discussing collaboration with companies is often a challenging and drawn-out process, however worthwhile. Adding to the list of challenges is changing the mindsets of company representatives and encouraging them to adopt systems like SEED into their business. 

A competitive edge 

While ESG is a popular term in industry and academia, law departments at universities have typically approached the issue conservatively, concentrating on legal issues related to greenwashing and environmental law. Still, more lawyers are upskilling through various certification processes. 

One of these is Chang Tun-wei, a senior lawyer at Lee & Li Attorneys-at-Law, who obtained an ESG management certification in 2021 to better serve his clients. Chang says he believes there is potential for legal practitioners to develop skills that would complement ESG work. As an example, he suggests that lawyers involved in merger due diligence could extend their scope to include an examination of a target company’s environmental and social practices.  

Traditionally, due diligence, often conducted by accounting firms, has focused mainly on financial aspects. However, Chang points out that in the context of an ESG report or company merger, the role of legal practitioners could expand beyond financial data to encompass environmental and social dimensions as well.  

Winners of the Taiwan Energy-Sustainable Energy Creative Implementation Competition in Kaohsiung receiving awards from the MOE’s Chiou.

The MOE’s Chiou says that while Taiwan’s educational institutions are moving in the right direction, they could still learn something from Japan’s experience. “After I visited Japan, I noticed a distinct difference in Japanese universities,” he says. “They have formed partnerships with a wide range of organizations, both at the international level and within the local community. These collaborations are characterized by a balanced approach that is neither overly academic nor overly commercial.”  

Cindy Chen, senior vice president of East Asia at Adecco, emphasizes that while achieving excellence in a chosen major is crucial, green skills can be an additional asset on a resume, helping candidates distinguish themselves in a competitive job market.  

“If I have to choose between one candidate with an accounting qualification, and one without but with knowledge of ESG, I will still pick the one with the qualification because that’s what my business needs,” she says. “But if both meet the basic requirements, of course ESG experience will become favorable.” 

Chen adds that knowledge of ESG principles and practices should be seen as part of company culture, integrated from top to bottom, rather than just a job.  

Peter Capelli, director of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School Management Department, agrees. “There is no skill gap, but rather a lack of sufficient training within companies,” he says. The industry could do more than wait for graduates with the right qualifications.  

Cappelli argues that addressing the so-called “skill gaps” in green jobs is more about shifting expectations than anything else. Assuming that employees will have all the necessary skills before applying for a position is impractical, he says. Instead, the real gap lies in the training and development opportunities offered to employees, equipping them with the skills needed for their specific roles. 

Extending this perspective, more companies are also recognizing that cultivating green skills among employees is not a cost but rather an investment. By enhancing cooperation with government and academia in key areas such as climate change and ESG, companies can help foster the type of employees needed to meet future challenges.