From education to employment

Invoking the spirit of Stephenson

When we think about tackling climate change, trade unions do not necessarily spring to mind as active campaigners. But the truth is, that trade unions and their members are playing a key role in workplaces, where reducing carbon emissions and other green measures are being taken. At a recent unionlearn Midlands conference “Skills for Greener Industries” the audience was invited to invoke the spirit of the George Stephenson generation, and to be green pioneers, as Stephenson was a pioneer of new solutions to the challenges of the early industrial revolution. That spirit is arguably needed to meet today’s challenge of making industry and our way of life fit for the sustainability of the planet. There is no doubt that the challenges of the green economy are huge, requiring high levels of commitment from everyone.

Fittingly, it was Stephenson College in Coalville, Leicestershire that provided the venue for unionlearn’s conference. The college is also the regional hub for the National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies and delegates took part in a tour of the college’s superb Renewable Energies Centre. It was clear that Stephenson College Principal, Nigel Leigh was keen to extend the Stephenson metaphor as he believes that the conference brought together trade union representatives, training providers and employers who could represent an engine to drive developments in the use of Sustainable Technologies.

In addition, energy efficiency expert Rick Greenough of De Montfort University, highlighted the importance of energy intensive industries shifting towards the use of renewable energies, pointing out the success of the nearby Toyota plant. We also heard an impassioned plea to enthuse our youth about science, technology and engineering – to ensure a greener future.

However, it’s not just in workplaces that we need to transform our thinking. As Keith Marshall, Chief Executive of Asset Skills, told the audience, we also face the incredible challenge of transforming the energy efficiency of the national housing stock and he underlined the importance of having skilled domestic energy efficiency advisors and tradespersons who could command the confidence of the consumer. The task of greening the economy, as we know, is formidable. From the trade union point of view, we are focusing on encouraging employers to work together with their staff to engage with the challenge of energy efficiency, which can make a significant contribution to saving costs in an increasingly expensive energy market as well as helping to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

As well as hearing from speakers, there were some excellent workshops, which really brought the scale of the challenges to life. Delegates were able to explore the cost-benefit analysis of environmental awareness and the economic payback. The various options for Low Carbon Technology and Sustainable Energy Technology were also discussed as well as the trade union approach to green workplaces.

It was great to hear from a variety of dedicated and varied speakers, such as Graham Petersen of the Greener Jobs Alliance, Tim Balcon the Chair of Skills for a Green Economy Group, Mike Peverill of Climate East Midlands and Mary Alys, unionlearn’s Midlands Regional Manager. It proved the point that the green pioneers are out there, whether they are heading up Sector Skills Councils, Further Education Colleges, community groups, or are trade union green reps.

Tom Wilson is director of unionlearn, the TUC’s learning and skills organisation

Read other FE News articles by Tom Wilson:

Gearing up for the party conference season

The ‘dynamic nucleus’ of union learning

Investigating the pay and employment conditions of apprentices

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