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More needs to be done to ensure the demand for green skills is realised

David Jones, NCFE's Verticals and Horizontals Manager

There’s a need for clearer pathways into green jobs if we’re to fill skills gaps and help more young people turn their passion for sustainability into careers, explains David Jones, Vertical and Horizontal Markets Manager at the educational charity and leader in vocational and technical learning NCFE.

More and more young people are growing up with an interest in the environment. You only had to watch the recent jubilee celebrations to see how prominently the topic featured and hear the underlying message that young people can be part of the solution.

Yet when learners begin to map out their next steps, it’s still far too difficult for them to understand how they can turn their desire to make the world a better place into rewarding and impactful careers.

Last week’s report by the Learning and Work Institute for WorldSkills UK – Skills for a net-zero economy: Insights from employers and young people – was very timely. It’s a warning that, despite a clear passion for the subject, too many young people aren’t clear on what green skills and green careers look like.

As a sector, this is our fault, not theirs.

Let’s start with careers guidance. Careers advisors need to be empowered with knowledge and understanding around the vast number of opportunities found in sustainability and green industries. We can’t have emboldened learners met with barriers at the very first hurdle.

We must be listening to them as well and taking steps to address the issues they raise.

If we look at the reasons young people want to pursue green careers, as expected, the WorldSkills UK report shows a huge majority (71%) feel inspired to combat climate change – with 62% saying they’re passionate about sustainability.

However, the report also states that, “educators and the skills system are not developing young people’s understanding of green careers, nor acting as the source of their inspiration for a job that combats climate change.”

A really damning statistic to emerge is that less than one in five learners (16%) said their interest in a green career began because of learning about it through education. What’s more, even fewer said they’d been inspired by their teachers.  

We know there’s a lot of good practice taking place at schools, colleges, and within training providers, but do young people recognise how this activity can help them with a career in sustainability? We should also be establishing communities of practice amongst our educators, so that good practice can be shared and scaled.

In support of teachers, we know from a previous report by the Education and Training Foundation, most don’t feel prepared when it comes to sustainability. A worrying 74% of teaching staff felt they hadn’t received adequate training to embed sustainability in their work or educate learners about climate change.

On the other side of this, we see only 16% of learners being inspired by their family and friends. Previous research undertaken by Gatsby showed that parents are predominantly informed by their own experiences when it comes to speaking to their children about careers. It’s the same when it comes to educational pathways.  

As educators, we should focus on how we can support parents and carers to understand career opportunities within sustainability, so they can then support with decision making. As a sector, we need to collaborate and ensure there are clear pathways for young people through education into employment.

We need to be responsive and work closely with employers

To do this, we need to be responsive and work closely with employers to find solutions that address their needs.

An area that would help link education and industry would be a clear and consistent definition of green jobs and skills. Current terminology can often be confusing, and we need to help young people better understand how they can link their interests and future careers.

As the WorldSkills UK report highlighted, there are some sectors that will require more technical, harder green skills, such as construction, engineering, manufacturing, and transport. We must work with those industries to ensure that we understand where the gaps are, and the specific skills they require.

Alongside more specialist skills, equally clear is the need for more general skills – and it’s these that can often prove harder to identify and map into occupations. We should be recognising examples of where young people are learning about sustainability through their curriculum – not only in specific subject areas.

We also need to link sustainability with essential skills. As stated in the report, “a successful transition will require people with broader skills, such as management and people skills”.

Gender gap when it comes to young people’s understanding of Green Skills

A final area the report identifies is a significant gender gap when it comes to young people’s understanding of green skills. The report states that 72% of women have never heard of green skills and don’t know what they are, compared to just over half (53%) of men.

Addressing the gender gap now should be a priority, otherwise it will continue into those sectors and widen still further. The UK Energy Research Centre, in their Green Job Creation, Quality and Skills Report, highlighted that there’s some evidence to indicate that women are underrepresented in green jobs occupations and training programmes, relative to men.

We need to highlight some positive role models and industry champions, so our young women have people to aspire to.

I welcome the commitments WorldSkills UK are making as they look to address the issues raised in their report. We should all be making our own commitments.

At NCFE, we’re proud to be embedding sustainability into the curriculum, throughout all our products and services. We’re working with established and emerging experts in the industry to identify areas of need and to help develop clear pathways into green jobs.

We’ll weave sustainability and green thinking into our qualifications and content, from technical education up to adult education.

It’s only through tangible solutions that we can ensure messages to young people about being part of the solution truly resonate. The passion and desire are clearly there. It’s up to us to provide the steps that will make their green aspirations a reality.

By David Jones, Vertical and Horizontal Markets Manager, NCFE

David Jones is the Vertical and Horizontal Markets Manager at the educational charity NCFE. He leads a project which is focused on identifying future skills needs in the changing world of work and education and, as part of that, David also leads on NCFE’s approach to sustainability. He believes in the power of education being available for all, promoting and advancing learning as a driver to address inequality and disadvantage. David has worked in education for the majority of his career. Prior to NCFE he was Country Manager for a North East university with responsibility for student recruitment and partnership development in a number of European Markets

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