Just Transition
The Role of Industry and Vocational Education in Coal Exit Labor Reconversion
Just Transition
5 min.

As part of the Sustainable Transitions Dialogue series, TRAJECTS organized the dialogue "The Role of Industry and Vocational Education in Coal Exit Labor Retraining" on April 19, 2024. During the dialogue, it was discussed how the active participation of industry and vocational or technical education can favor a just transition in terms of labor reconversion during the coal exit process.

Hosted by the Universidad del Magdalena, the dialogue had 4 participants:

  • Dr. Marcus Eckelt: Head of the Department of Vocational Education and Training - Technical University of Berlin.
  • Claudia Blanco Rada: Train driver, treasurer of SINTRACARBON Ciénaga and worker of CI PRODECO S.A.
  • Daniel Lázcares: Director of the Department of Research in Education and Vocational Technical Training - Technical University of Costa Rica.
  • Dania Lizbeth Guzmán Beleño: Microbiologist, Specialist in Environmental Management, Master in Sustainable Development and Environment.

Daniel Lázcares began by talking about the labor transition related to the energy transition. He pointed out that the fragmentation of labor trajectories always entails tension and uncertainty, and governmental and educational institutions play a key role in controlling the situation. In this regard, he highlighted the importance of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in labor transitions. TVET has 4 functions: social, political, economic, and cultural. It can facilitate the integration of young workers into society, linking them to a career with social and vocational sense, taking decent employment into account. It generates qualified labor, diversifying the educational offer, shifting the focus from the exploitation potential of a particular sector to the quality of workers' qualification. It has the potential to articulate the state-institutional-legal power to be a centre of dialogue. It can also foster and enhance the links between historical-local knowledge and technical-scientific knowledge.

Marcus Eckelt commented that learning begins in the education sector, but continues in the economic sector. Workers continue to learn on the job. This is interrupted when there is a sudden change in the economy, which creates unemployment and forces workers to re-skill. Four important points emerge regarding this issue: the real demand for re-skilled workers; type of knowledge required by the industry; financing of quality re-skilling programs; and programs accessible in the region. In this sense, it is important to consider not only the economic actors, but also the social, educational and state actors in order to determine how the future of the region should look. He pointed out that in Germany, vocational training takes place both in the educational sphere and in the workplace, within the companies themselves.

Claudia Blanco and Dania Guzmán spoke about the exit of the company PRODECO from the Cesar del Magdalena region, which heavily impacted more than 1,700 formal and informal workers. They mentioned the lack of a closure plan on the part of the company and the lack of transparency within the process meant there have been no guarantees for those affected, nor have any dialogues been organized between the parties. They pointed out that decarbonization has not really happened, because although the mine was closed, the coal is now being exported from other regions of Colombia. Both participants spoke of the importance of technical vocational training to ensure that the energy transition happens in a just manner, and the role that the state must play in planning the supply and demand of skilled labor at the local level, as there may be programs and qualified personnel, but they are forced to migrate or perform other jobs due to the lack of job offers.

All panelists concluded that the labor transition must be a participatory process, putting the dignity of labor in mining regions at the center. Other regions of Colombia will go through similar mine closure processes, which will affect even more workers. Diversifying economic activity is key, and a task in which all actors must be involved. The closing of gaps that is outlined in the Energy Transition Plan of Colombia highlights the inclusion of women, and this requalification must present an opportunity for rural women to insert themselves into the labor sector and benefit everyone. Companies play a key role in this requalification, and must take an active role beyond just being future employers. Labor transition is a difficult and collective process, and these spaces for dialogue are key to finding concrete solutions.

The event is available on YouTube:

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