Building Indonesia’s talent pipeline for a sustainable future

Building Indonesia’s talent pipeline for a sustainable future

By SMU City Perspectives team

Published 22 February, 2023


One of the things about preparing a talent pipeline is, while it is for the workforce -  it is just as important to prepare entrepreneurs, new ideas and new sustainable solutions.

Lily Kong

President; Lee Kong Chian Chair Professor of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University

In brief

  • Academia and vocational training play an important role in bridging the gap between Indonesia’s sustainability targets and what businesses can currently achieve. This must be accompanied by mindset shifts and effective strategies for capacity building at the individual level. 
  • Sustainability practitioners need to be multi-disciplinary in nature since the field itself is multifunctional. Beyond technical training, Indonesian youths also need greater awareness on the severity of the climate problem, and through advocacy, be galvanised to become change-makers. 
  • Indonesia faces a heavy burden as a producer of raw materials in the global supply chain, while also navigating the line between doing what works for its economy and taking the sustainable path. Entrepreneurs will play an important role in creating the innovative solutions needed to transition towards greener growth models. 

The demand for talent in the field of sustainability is increasing, but the amount of expertise in the field is thin. As more nations take the step towards transitioning to greener and more sustainable economies, there is a need to develop workers with the necessary skills through a sustainability talent pipeline (a pool of candidates ready and equipped to take on the positions). At the SMU Presidential Distinguished Lecturer Series (PDLS) in Jakarta, Professor Lily Kong led a panel discussion around building a sustainability talent pipeline in Indonesia - a climate powerhouse whose climate mitigation and adaptation measures could have a significant global impact. The panel discussed the types and amount of talent needed to deliver the nation's climate ambitions, as well as the role that the Education sector plays in identifying and developing these skills and competencies. 

Meet the Speakers

Click the hotspots to read more about each speaker

Key highlights from the discussion: 

1. Working with academia and changing mindsets on sustainability 

The Indonesian government recently increased its Nationally Determined Contribution(NDC) target from 29% to 31.89%. While this reveals the country’s growing commitment to climate action, a large gap remains between the government's targets and what businesses can possibly achieve. Ms Shinta Kamdani , CEO, Sintesa Group, shared that academia plays an important role in bridging this gap through education and vocational training. By working with educational institutes such as universities, businesses can learn how to augment existing jobs and create new roles that will  help them attain their sustainability goals. Beyond this, she stressed  the importance of changing people’s mindsets towards green jobs and sustainability as a whole. She says, “Rather than feeling pushed into these jobs, people need to understand why this work is important. There has to be alignment between the government’s targets, business practices and individuals’ mindsets.”  

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 2. Developing partnerships and building capacity   

Mr Aldi Haryopratomo, an entrepreneur on sabbatical shared that unlike other countries which are focused on reducing carbon emission rates, Indonesia’s focus needs to be on the preservation of carbon sequestration areas. To do so, the country needs to have professionals with the relevant expertise to achieve this goal in a sustainable and financially feasible way.  Mr Haryopratomo believes that partnerships with existing training and research institutions are key to capacity building, and he cites research institution Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego as an example. He explains that by giving young Indonesians access to the right types of opportunities, they would have the motivation and knowlege needed to solve the country’s unique problems and find solutions that benefit its communities.    

3. Recruiting and developing multidisciplinary practitioners 

When asked about the recruitment challenges that come with building a sustainable economy, Mr Bernard Tan, Country President (Singapore)/Managing Director APP SInar Mas says that sustainability practitioners need to be multi-disciplinary since the field itself is multifunctional, but there are few who currently possess the relevant expertise and experience. In his opinion, a sustainability practitioner needs to embody four characteristics. Firstly, they need to have an appreciation for environmental sciences, which usually involves some form of technical knowledge or a background in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).  Second, a sustainability practitioner also needs to know the basics of economics, which includes understanding how incentives drive human behaviour and how markets work. Third, a sustainability practitioner needs to be socially aware and engaged with happenings on the ground, so as to ensure that the people at the bottom of the rung are not the ones bearing the whole burden. Finally, a sustainability practitioner must have a political mindset since the job involves negotiating agreements in a way that appeases all parties. In summary, rather than going deep into one subject, a sustainability practitioner needs to be able to connect the dots, and do so across various disciplines. 

4. Encouraging interdisciplinary graduates to tune in to the needs of the sustainable economy 

Mr Gulshan Harjani, Founder and CEO, Communication World shared his thoughts on encouraging a growing interdisciplinary cohort of graduates in Indonesia to respond to the needs of a sustainable and green economy. Mr Harjani spelt out three qualities that he believes need to be instilled in the next generation. First is an awareness of the severity of climate climate Secondly, the willingness to take action must be inculcated. Instead of depending on the government or pointing fingers at others, young people need to have the tenacity to make the necessary changes, especially as they move on to the workforce or build business of their own. His last point was on advocacy. Mr Harjani believes that students need to be discussing sustainability in their private and social lives. Likening it to a revolution, he encourages students to “talk about it, share, and push your way through. Suggestions are not enough. Really go out and do things.”  

5. Indonesia’s challenges in transitioning to a green economy  

Mr Tan shared that the burden of sustainability falls heavily on those in the manufacturing and production chain, and as a producer of raw materials, this includes Indonesia. Furthermore, as a developing country, Indonesia faces the problem of navigating between doing what works for its economy (e.g., exploiting its natural resources) and taking the ‘right’ (i.e.,sustainable) path. While he acknowledges that a global carbon market could play a role in helping the country transit to a greener growth model, there are still ways to go about achieving this.  

Ms Kamdani added that amid talk about energy transition, one needs to discuss the need for a ‘just’ transition. This means ensuring that people in emerging economies like Indonesia have the opportunity to prepare for the shifts that come with a green economy (e.g. changes in jobs and skillsets). She expressed her concern on the ‘link and match’ issue between universities and the employment market, and believes that sustainability needs to be integrated into the basic education curriculum at all levels, and not just higher-level education.  

6. The role of Indonesian entrepreneurs in achieving a sustainable future 

Prof Kong asked Mr Haryopratomo for his thoughts on the entrepreneurship scene in Indonesia, particularly on whether the current generation of founders are focusing on developing sustainable solutions. Mr Haryopratomo commented that technology entrepreneurship in Indonesia is still in its early stages, with many focusing on the economic empowerment of those at the bottom of the pyramid. However, he is optimistic that the next generation of  start-ups in this space will be even more impactful and green on the sustainability front. He shares that there is also promise in the carbon sequestration space, since he considers the country to be a “gold mine for carbon”. Given the complexity of the current carbon credit system, he hopes to see innovative technologies emerge in the near future, as a way to trace carbon back to the source in an efficient way.