There is little doubt that educating our students about climate change is critical if we are to meet the Government’s targets to be Net Zero by 2050. They need to understand its root causes, possible mitigation options, the adaptations we will have to make in response to it and the areas where innovation is needed.
2050 might seem a long way away to some, but if we don’t embed these kinds of topics throughout all our students’ curricula with urgency, then the decisions-makers, consumers, change-agents, regulators, policy-makers and entrepreneurs of 2030 to 2040 (the decade when all the heavy lifting will be required) will be lost from the sectors that most desperately need them. The damage to society could be irrecoverable.
To achieve the rapid transition we face, it won’t do to treat education as producer of raw materials in the form of green industry-ready learners. We need the expertise of all those leading and teaching in colleges to shape new learning materials and experiences that will inspire, prepare, and support the workforce of tomorrow.
For twenty years of my career in resource management, we were all about waste collection and landfill disposal. Over time, we morphed into a sector that collected, recycled, composted and recovered energy from waste to reduce our reliance on landfill. Now, we are transitioning again into a low-carbon, more resource-efficient and more circular economy (less make, use and dispose).
This will require a doubling of the sector’s workforce, a localising of opportunities to minimise transportation impacts. It also calls for a raft of new skills that we have only tinkered with to date – repair, refill, reuse, upholstery, material substitution, eco-design, chemical processing, anaerobic digestion, behaviour change, regulation, policy development and new collection and harvesting models.
And my sector is only one of the many going through similar transitions. It adds up to a workforce mobilisation on the scale of World War II, but with more complex, complicated and interconnected demands. As such, the need for education, engagement, training and support is unparalleled in recent history.
It’s daunting, perhaps, but the opportunities are huge if we can link industry needs with education and training provision to get the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time. That’s why I am working so closely with CAPE (Climate Adapted Pathways for Education), the CIWM, the UK Government Green Jobs Delivery Group and others like the Green Alliance, BITC, IEMA and Aldersgate Group, to map out demands and ensure supply is being adequately supported.
Industry simply must support the education sector to enable students to encounter meaningful curriculum content. We will waste the opportunity if education amounts only to calls for climate activism without preparing learners with the knowledge and depth of understanding they need to be part of the solution.
Industry does not, however, necessarily know the best way to support and develop students and future employees. Colleges and training providers therefore have a crucial role to play in shaping industry’s input. Though focused on younger pupils, BASF ScienceXperience is a great example of how a co-creative approach can develop long-term relationships between education settings and local industry, develop a shared direction of travel and meet the needs of all stakeholders.
While the offer from industry to education may not always hit the nail on the head, it is driven by a desire to do the right thing. To take a leaf from sustainable practice in my sector, the solution is not to bin them and buy new ones, but to adapt them to suit our needs.
We know the most effective partnerships focus on curriculum design, the adoption of ‘live’ contexts, making use of real data, case studies, inspirational speakers, work placements, internships and apprenticeships.
And if we can create a circular economy of opportunities for learning and training, we will be well on our way to our NetZero goal. I know my sector is all ears and ready to adapt.