We recently received a request for support in building a Labour Insight report on the Circular Economy from Lucy Stanfield, Business Development Analyst for the Circular Economy at the University of Edinburgh.

Now, I have been a vegetarian from the age of 12, a campaigner for the environment, a keen recycler and, yes, I will admit it, have hugged a few trees too but, I had never heard of the Circular Economy.

I built the report based on the brief Lucy had given me, then we had an online session where we went through the results and she gave me a fascinating introduction into this very exciting area.

What is the Circular Economy?

It’s the idea that we need to have a shift away from our current linear economy, where you take a resource out of the ground, you make it into a product and then you throw it away. The circular economy aims to create a closed-loop system: once a given product has come to the end of its life, you can transform it and reuse it. It also involves concepts like the sharing economy. Spotify is a great example: we used to always buy music on records or CDs but now it’s a digital copy, and so there is no waste in that. It is a wholesale change to the current economy.

Raising awareness

We live in a time when our oceans are filling with plastic; school children are striking, fighting for the future of the planet. No parent wants to leave a decimated world for their children. For the Circular Economy to be fully effective, more people need to be aware, for that all-important change in hearts and minds.

  1. Careers advisers and teachers – Making young people aware of these occupations and careers could be the seed to growing the great engineers, scientists, marketing gurus and designers of the future.
  2. Councils and LEPs – Providing support for start-ups and established companies in this field will help the Circular Economy grow in your area. Have you set up a local policy for the Circular Economy? Including the Circular Economy in the LMI / careers packs for schools could give young people who are passionate about the environment, a new direction.

Circular Economy occupations and careers

Using Labour Insight, a database of online job postings dating back to 2012, I ran a query looking at postings using the terms “circular economy”, “industrial ecology”, “circular design”, “sustainable manufacturing”, “waste streams”, “Ellen MacArthur” (referring to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation) and “cradle to cradle” over the last 12 months, UK wide.

Fig.1 below shows an amazing array of occupations. It is interesting to see that, as well as the kind of jobs you might expect with sustainability, environmental and waste specialists, there are a high number of research and university lecturing jobs indicating that this area really is in its infancy.

Circular economy occupations

Fig. 1 Circular Economy – Top Burning Glass Occupations, last 12 months, UK wide.

Other career options

Some career examples, which haven’t shown up during this 12 month analysis are chemistry, biology, engineering, as well as, marketing, PR, strategy, business development etc. to persuade people to change their behaviour, and to work differently.

The Circular Economy needs to be embedded across multiple disciplines and sectors – it isn’t just a ‘science’ thing, or a ‘product development’ thing, it really needs interdisciplinary and cross-sector knowledge. So, in terms of young people thinking about future careers and studies, it’s really a relevant skill for almost any career choice.

Top employers

Fig. 2 below shows the top employers over the whole of the UK in the last 12 months. We can see that the recycling companies such as Suez, Viridor, Ricardo and Terracycle are well represented in the top 12. What is very interesting is the number of universities on the list (directly, and through the Times Higher Education job board).

Circular economy top employers

Fig. 2 Circular Economy – Top Employers last 12 months, UK wide.

Where are Circular Economy jobs located?

The map below shows the concentration of jobs over the last 12 months by travel to work area (TTWA). Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester are leading the way, closely followed by Glasgow, Cambridge, Swansea, Falkirk & Stirling, Belfast, Exeter, Swindon and Edinburgh. The light grey shows areas of the country where no jobs were found using our search criteria in the last 12 months.

Circular economy demand map

Fig. 3 Circular Economy – Demand Map showing top locations by travel to work area (TTWA), UK wide, last 12 months.

Volume of jobs

Since January 2012, there have been 9,316 postings across the whole of the UK using this search. The chart below shows a steady increase, with the exception of 2018, rising to a peak of 1,807 in 2019.

It would be fair to say that there haven’t been many jobs in this area so far but we know that we need to change hearts and minds for this to grow – and change is happening.

What needs to happen for the number of jobs in the Circular Economy to increase?

In a nut shell, more awareness of what the circular economy is and how businesses can engage with it, as well as, an awareness of the opportunities related to the circular economy.

Perhaps we will increasingly see it being linked to ideas around prosperity over growth, and the ‘wellbeing economy’, a term being used by the Scottish Government. Ultimately, our economies need to change as well so they don’t just value growth for growth’s sake.

Circular economy time series analysis

Fig. 3 Circular Economy –Time Series Analysis – total job postings 2012-2019, UK wide.

How businesses can engage with the Circular Economy and find out more information?

If you live in Scotland, Zero Waste Scotland looks to be a very good one-stop-shop for businesses looking for more information and funding; the public sector as well as the individual.  For the rest of the UK, I haven’t been able to find an equivalent government site so please let me know if you have any good links. The best link that I have found is The Ellen MacArthur Foundation with a page dedicated to a toolkit for policy makers

In part 2 of this feature, I will be looking at skills, education, subject areas, and skills clusters in the Circular Economy.

If like me, you were unaware of the Circular Economy, please share this blog to raise awareness among your peers. I would love to hear of any questions or comments that you may have, especially if you are working in the Circular Economy.

Labour Insight users – please let me know if you would like me to put this report in your shared space.


Implementation and Support Consultant for Labour Insight

Email: helpdesk@activeinformatics.com

Tel: 01256 848 636 or 01256 464 749