From education to employment

Encouraging investment in green skills – the Rio Earth Summit

It has been 20 years since the first Rio Earth Summit, and this week world leaders are convening once again to negotiate the world’s future and to agree on principles that will renew commitment to sustainable development.

Many, many issues are on the table. But education and employment are taking centre stage as it becomes clear that to make a successful transition to a more sustainable, green economy, we must tackle the massive skills gap that we face.

This green skills gap is a major stumbling block to delivering that green economy. In 2009, the Aldersgate Group produced a report that concluded:

Strong evidence suggests that the UK does not have the necessary skills to make the transition at the pace required, or the training arrangements in place to fill the gap. (Mind the Gap, November 2009).

3 years on and the prognosis is pretty much the same. To retrofit our draughty houses; to make the switch to clean energy; to build, maintain and operate public transport systems; to design smart, energy efficient buildings – these are just some of the tasks that need to be done to help get us on the right track to a green economy. And yet we don’t have the necessary skills in this country. It is amazing to me that we have over 1 million young unemployed people in the UK, and thousands of unemployed tradesmen and women who are eager to acquire the green skills needed to do this work, and yet they are not being offered the opportunity.

Some promising proposals have been made by countries in advance of the negotiations, which will improve the capacity of our education systems to prepare people for green careers. Enhanced teacher training, the development of curricula around sustainability, the development of training programmes, and more effective use of information and communication technologies to enhance learning outcomes have all been suggested. This is all great, if national governments can take these proposals and run with them. However, I suspect that in the face of ever greater austerity measures, we will need to do more than a little pushing to get the political commitment and support we need from the coalition government to enact and implement these strategies effectively.

It will be up to us to call for the action we need, and to start delivering concrete examples of what can be achieved. Luckily, this is happening already in many places. We at The Otesha Project UK, as convenors of the East London Green Jobs Alliance, are working hard to create green training and employment opportunities for young unemployed people from East London. We have adapted an environmental literacy curriculum from the States, called Roots of Success, which is currently used in over 200 green jobs training programmes in America and is designed for those with lower levels of literacy and numeracy. We believe that environmental literacy is key, so that people understand the meaning and dignity inherent in work that preserves our environment and aids our communities. We have had a lot of fun piloting this curriculum with young people from The Prince’s Trust.

We are also supporting the launch of the Green Skills Manifesto, spearheaded by the UCU Greener Jobs Alliance, which calls for institutions in the FE sector to integrate education for sustainable development across the curriculum at all levels of education, and for progress on greening the curriculum to be part of the inspection framework. Since responsibilities for green skills are currently spread across a number of government departments, the UCU Greener Jobs Alliance advocates for a green skills ministerial post to be created, to direct a coordinated strategy inclusive of all stakeholders.

The dialogue on green skills is happening already, and action is being taken. However, for this agenda to gain real traction, representatives from all across the FE sector must get involved. We need consistent and long-term engagement from government and public sector alike, to encourage investment in green skills. The Rio Earth Summit is just the first step. There is a lot of work to be done, and people out there waiting to do it.

Hanna Thomas is green jobs director for Otesha Project UK

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