COP26 is upon us. Agreements will be reached, hands shaken and agreements with the potential to drive rapid change across the world signed. Heads of state will return home ready to act on new targets or agreements, or at the very least, to figure out how to make it look like they’re doing so.
As a result of the agreements that come out of this make or break moment, business leaders will be compelled to adapt these changes into their vision and strategies to meet net zero, decarbonisation or even carbon negative targets.
What will this mean for the education sector and the new skills it will need to lead on? Earlier this year, FE News published an article on the sustainability roadmap for FE and HE institutions in the UK. The UNESCO 2030 roadmap is clear in its call for climate-ready learning environments, empowerment and upskilling of educators and more support for youth mobilisation on climate action.
There is still a huge piece missing when it comes to the picture of the skills needed to facilitate the social changes required to fight climate change. There has been much focus on ‘green jobs’ , such as the 694,000 of them that are forecast to exist across England by 2030 but the reality is that this is just part of a much, much bigger picture!
Whilst these green jobs will be essential for building a more sustainable economy, the overwhelming majority of us will continue to work in ‘non-green’ jobs in sectors that will still have to transform to become more sustainable. Green jobs alone will not bring the scale of change we need to meet sustainability targets.
It is not just a case of sustainability skills becoming essential for employability, but more that we have the challenge of changing personal and social behaviour across society to ensure that individuals know how their choices, as citizens and consumers, impact on the climate and future generations.
This means that our challenge goes far beyond developing skills for green jobs. We need to embed mass eco-literacy and sustainability skills across all sectors, job roles and society as a whole. The skills sector is the obvious choice to lead on this.
Where does this leave the teachers, students, apprentices and campus staff who could be taking action now but need the resources and training to do so? What can we do to support them?
A transformative solution for challenging times
An education and training solution which empowers the sector to lead on skills to mitigate and prevent the worst impacts of climate change, to equip all learners with the knowledge they need to support sustainability objectives, and the skills they need to be actively involved in change. That is the challenge we set ourselves at The Skills Network.
The solution needs to be accessible, adaptable and available to education institutes to personalise and align with their own focus, employer partnerships and region. It needs to provide practical strategy, support, end to end delivery resource and teacher training to empower education stakeholders to embed sustainability across their delivery to help them become Sustainability Change Makers.
The critical element here is impact. We do not need more people to know more things, but rather to feel able, empowered and ready to do more. To meet this challenge, and to address the huge sustainability skills gap we currently have, we are launching a suite of transformative solutions.
Understanding and applying environmental sustainability (level 2 RQF)
This unique programme is the first in the suite, and has the flexibility to draw relevance from a wide range of sectors, from those working in marketing admissions and finance on campus, to the learners doing their apprenticeships in hairdressers and catering companies, to people working in non green office jobs, or even working from home.
There are a lot of sustainability courses out there, with phrases like “raising awareness” or “equipping with knowledge” but this is not a course in GDPR or health and safety. There is a major lack of training, support and resources available to educators to embed it into the delivery of their own subject.
The Skills Network’s resources are different; designed to provide educators with an end to end solution for developing core sustainability skills and providing adaptable, sector-specific examples and many opportunities for practical application. Our level 2 qualification include project work applicable to each individual sector, and we provide the resources to embed this into full time programmes.
In line with this approach, our content explores key sustainability themes in a way that goes beyond basic knowledge transfer, and is instead relational and co constructed.We have embedded case studies and activities throughout our courses, which apply to a wide range of sectors and roles, ranging from ‘office’ job and service sectors to manual sectors, from large companies to individual sole traders, colleges to communities.
“That’s not co-constructed” you might say, and normally you would be right. In this new offer, however, we have added an additional project unit to our course offer on ‘Impact at Work’. This enables learners to take all of their new skills and knowledge to apply to practical sustainability scenarios in specific job roles and work sectors, which then feeds back into the learning resources as tangible, relatable examples of real impact.
Making real impact
The impact project component is a unique offer. Learners are asked to draw together their learning from the core units and apply it to make real change in their own setting, whether that be college, work, home or community.
From conducting and acting on sustainability audits to analysing sources of emissions and recommending and implementing changes, learners are firmly in the driving seat, and educators and institutions can be alongside in support.
We have created pathways for these learners to share that personal impact with us, so that an ever-increasing diversity of case studies can be fed back into the resources at learners’ disposal. The more a learner can see someone like themselves, making positive change in a context that feels personally relevant, the less distance there is from a sense of agency. In other words, if they do it, why can’t I?
In using this as a cornerstone resource to inspire change, educators can become instant sustainability champions, even if they are new to the subject. By taking our programme to use ‘off the shelf’ to deliver in-depth sustainability skills or by using our course editing tool to add in additional case studies and activities that are specific to the subject they teach, our resources can be used as a basis to deliver sustainability skills in everything from hairdressing and catering to construction and engineering!
Reflection, reaction, action.
Throughout our intensive, down-to-earth and practical suite of sustainability courses, we have created numerous opportunities to reflect, deepen learning, conduct independent research and to find out more about how each area of sustainability connects to the world around the learner. What do rising global temperatures mean for life in my region? What does the circular economy have to do with an apprentice plumber?
Each unit has opportunities to apply that learning. From small tasks at home, to organisations you can contact, to ideas for projects at work and in college. This approach is designed to build competency-based sustainability knowledge and skills that can be aligned to multiple roles and sectors, making learners more employable and able to use the practical skills developed on the programme to effect positive change at work
At each opportunity we connect the global context of big concepts like the UN SDGs and the big summits on climate change to the actions we see in everyday contexts around us. If we want to connect knowledge and reflection to action, we need to see the thread that runs through all of the narratives, policies and practices around us. Perhaps COP26 might feel a little less distant that way.
To help transform organisational cultures, systems, communities and societies, our offer is designed to find ways to meet people where they are, and shrink the distance between the issues we collectively face and the personal choices we make every single day.
The Leading Solution for Mass Sustainability and Eco Literacy Skills in Non-Green Jobs
As much as we have focused on creating relevance to a range of people, roles, sectors and contexts, nobody knows your setting better than you do. That means flexibility and adaptability will be a critical success factor for a sustainability training that aims at making real change in society.
While our ready to go, off-the-shelf provision will certainly appeal to many, we do offer a course builder tool which allows you to fully adapt, edit, brand and personalise the provision to your institute or subject.
Getting started with sustainability training can be very time consuming, but this way there is no need to start from scratch. You can add in examples from your own institution, your own case studies, extend areas that connect to key lines of strategy, and any number of other tweaks to take personalisation to the next level. Whatever your provision, region, local or national ecosystem, making this work for you is
Learning can be fully online (generally a lower carbon option!) or blended to add, for example, site visits and opportunities for experiential learning. Mass sustainability skills mean the broadest possible access, and online learning supports this.
This way, education institutes and businesses can use our core content to support their own branded, institutionalised sustainability strategy, with clear connections to specific student/institute projects and practical application activities.
Moving forward from there, we have a range of progression routes to more specialised courses for teachers and leaders, as well as consultancy support to help embed ESD within your wider sustainability strategy, from core projects to employer partnerships.
Through these layers of quality skills training and support, embedding sustainability in your institution just became much more accessible. If we are to be bold, we must be willing to say that every job is a green job in a truly sustainable world. That means every job must be supported with the skills training to make that a reality..
Empowering action now, not later
An ambitious sustainability strategy is not just an extra, or a nice-to-have in any business or education institution. Sustainability training is not an added value, but inherent. Minimising our impact on people and the planet is not just good for business and innovation, but a responsibility and an obligation.
The tidal wave of demand for sustainability skills is now coming into full view, but it is also our responsibility to equip the mass workforce with these skills, so that real systemic change is possible.
We need not wait for new rafts of regulations and targets to be handed down, especially those which shift with the prevailing political wind. If the last 20 years have proved anything, it is that we cannot always look up for leadership on climate action.
Arming our staff and students with knowledge of what sustainability means and how it connects to each of them, means they will see the way they live, eat, travel and work in a new light. The invigorating realisation that the worst impacts of climate change need not happen if we all step up, can make all the difference.
Leadership, empowerment, future skills and positive action. What’s not to like?
Keep calm and carry on recycling if you like, but we owe it to generations present and pending to learn more, say more, do more. To give this our best shot, and to do it together we need to be inclusive and make sure everyone gets involved.
We invite institutions to reach out and work with us to ensure that when these targets and strategies filter down from COP26, we have a new generation of graduates and learners, educators and leaders, who know just how to drive them forward.
For more information on The Skills Network’s sustainability courses and to sign up click here