The sustainability sector is one of the fastest growing in the UK and, given the government’s commitment to sustainable development, it will undoubtedly be one of the key job providers for the next generation of apprentices.
Broadly speaking, the main targets the government has set itself for 2020 are to use energy more efficiently and sparingly, to reduce carbon emissions from all types of business (central government wants to be carbon neutral by 2012) and to source, and promote the use of, alternative energy. Industry will need to develop new muscles if we are to achieve our goals as a nation.
Where the government goes, we will all be expected to follow. If apprenticeships are to match long-term government aspirations then their value needs to be better understood by employers and demonstrated through effective quantitative and qualitative measures. If we are to fill the gaps in our country’s green-skills set, we need to move towards an employer demand led environment and not one exclusively defined by government.
Together, we need to provide new apprenticeships to address the current shortage of skilled workers for industries such as nuclear decommissioning, wind turbine manufacture and electric car maintenance for instance. It is easy to believe that working in sectors like these is all about the most technically demanding jobs. But alongside them, there exists a huge demand for well-trained workers to deal with the less talked about elements of green business, like IT, construction, engineering and recycling.
You may have read earlier this month that orders have dried up for wind turbines in the UK. However, Britain recently overtook Denmark to become the world’s largest offshore windfarm player, and energy companies are expected to spend the next two years planning bids to build huge projects that may not become operational much before the end of the decade.
Our challenge is not just to deliver the qualifications and exams that cover today’s business environment, but to predict and prepare for the demands of the next generation. As we move forward, wind turbines and many more sustainability projects will come into greater focus again. By then, we will have put industry in a better position to cope with these demands, by supplying the types of qualifications that make certain employees are trained to meet the demands we will be placing on our future workforce.
At Pearson, we are as passionate about sustainability as many of our stakeholders. We have been included in the FTSE4Good indices since their inception and place great importance on not compromising our standards of quality or causing harm to suppliers and their workers, wherever they may be in the world. Within our own organisation, we have introduced recycling points rather than bins, video and teleconferencing is being used far more frequently to reduce our travel miles and we encourage the use of digital communication instead of print wherever and whenever possible.
We have also noted the need for our education offer to evolve with the times and reflect our own vision of a sustainable future. The BTEC in Sustainability Skills has been designed to introduce learners to the various elements of sustainability. It helps prepare them for jobs not just in the sustainability sector, but teaches the importance of having knowledge and awareness of sustainability that can be passed on to others in the community.
Our course has been designed to give learners a sense of ownership of sustainability and the opportunity to develop practical skills, as well as build a full understanding of the green world and their potential to influence it.
One of the key factors behind the course’s eventual success will be the buy-in of employers.
The strategy behind every BTEC Apprenticeship we offer is that it should be both flexible and robust enough to allow employers, learning providers and learners to develop the new skills they need to support growth. The reason this move towards the green economy is deeply important to us is not just that we are supporting sustainability, but that we can provide the breadth of learning through learning providers that gives learners the opportunity to make a real difference in sectors that will quite literally be changing the global business landscape.
By doing that, we will be giving employers the tools to enhance their top and bottom line performance, as well as to make their workplace a more enjoyable and fulfilling place for their employees.
Trevor Luker is managing director of Pearson Work Based Learning