Jobs in the circular economy

It is often forgotten that, in addition to the ecological and economic aspects, the transition to the circular economy also has significant social effects. An example is how the employment market will also (have to) change. This not only applies to the recycling sector, but also beyond it along the whole value chain.

New jobs

Different studies show that the transition to a circular economy will provide extra jobs in different sectors. The projections differ depending on the focus area. For Flanders, SuMMa estimates 27,000 additional jobs in waste management in Flanders alone. No figures are yet available for the whole value chain in Flanders.

But what kind of jobs?

The Flemish Materials Programme (a precursor of Circular Flanders) commissioned exploratory research into the job impact of the circular economy. The research concentrated on a number of concrete case studies:

  • biomass (frozen leeks);
  • change-oriented construction;
  • electrical and electronic equipment;
  • and new business models.

The study highlighted a number of new jobs, but also and particularly many changes to the nature of the work, many new skills, knowledge elements, and to a lesser extent attitude changes.

Below is an overview of the seven major conclusions:

1. Which niches will become mainstream?

Today, there are many niche technologies, niche practices, niche businesses, and experiments in the circular economy, but it is not yet clear which of the niches will be successful in the long term and break through on a large scale. This means it is difficult to identify which jobs will increase in numbers or importance.

2. The potential is highly sector-specific

The individuality of each (circular) value chain is great. For example, organic material (leeks) is completely different from non-organic material.

3. Cooperation along the value chain is the key

A third element is the striking presence of cooperation along the value chain (vertical cooperation) in all Clusters. All activities are becoming more complex and more integrated, which automatically results in the need for more knowledge and skills.

4. The importance of knowledge and skills among managers

The knowledge and skills of managers are decisive. This certainly applies in the niches phase, and probably more generally as well. Opportunities must be taken, risks must be accurately estimated, companies must be run differently, and strategy development must be more creative. Most of these aspects will be expected from the management.

5. Increasing importance of the phase after (first) use

There is a strong increase in the importance of the phase after the consumer has completed a first phase of use (with the exception of organic materials). Repair, reuse, disassembly, refurbishing, and remanufacturing are expected to be given a strong boost in the future, as are the jobs associated with these activities.

6. The consumer must be on board

Manufacturers, designers, distributors, and others develop new models, but the consumer is often an indispensable link here. There is also much to be done among consumers as regards knowledge, attitude, and behaviour.

7. Integrated jobs along the chain.

A great deal of job impact will not be restricted to one phase of the value chain (sales, for example). We also have integration in this respect: activities related to research, training, information (sharing), cooperation, smart logistics, the utilisation of residual and auxiliary flows, and entrepreneurship are transversal activities that will undergo change in a number of (often all) phases in the value chain.