Laying down Roots of Success in East London

Tamsin Roberston from The Otesha Project UK tells us about the Roots of Success environmental literacy curriculum they are rolling out across East London…

99% of the UK is literate. Many of us are financially literate. But how many can claim to be environmentally literate?

Many of you reading this will be well aware of the far-reaching environmental impacts of our everyday actions, from what we choose to eat for breakfast, how we travel to work, how we conduct ourselves in the workspace to how we socialise.  We have become aware of the spaces we find ourselves in and the practices required to maintain or make them ‘green’.  But how many of us had these thoughts in our head when we were 16 or 17, deciding our ‘careers’?

Financial reward, professional development, qualifications needed… these were key factors to consider when ‘deciding our future’ as one career advisor put it.  I remember clearly taking a ‘career test’ when I was 15, a series of questions covering academic, personal and lifestyle preferences.   The result; I should look into becoming a telephone pylon erector; I didn’t mind heights, liked the outdoors and wanted variety in my job.   There was no mention of the environmental impact of this career choice- the resource intensive, carbon polluting energy sector I’d be working in, no mention of renewable energy, no mention of the vehicle I would inevitably be driving around in to erect these pylons.

11 years on, with the impacts of climate change being felt world-over, with resource wars a real or threatened phenomena on every continent- you’d expect environmental impact and sustainability to play a large part in career choice for today’s young people making the transition to work, right? Wrong.  A few months ago we were contacted by a careers advisor from a local connexions service in a bit of a panic- she’d had young people coming in asking about how to get a green job, some wanted to work in renewable energy.  They had no resources or knowledge to deal with it.  This is madness.

We know that to address the global challenges facing our economy and climate, we must transform society within a single generation.   The need to transition to a green economy is urgent if we are to meet the national target of 80% carbon emissions cuts by 2050.  And this transition requires green jobs. We know there are policy barriers to the creation of green jobs.  We also know that those making the transition to employment, both young and old, need to understand, want and demand green jobs.

That’s why, as part of our green jobs programme here at The Otesha Project UK, we’ve spent the last 10 months adapting the successful US environmental literacy and job readiness curriculum ‘Roots of Success’ for a UK audience.  It’s a 9-module curriculum, each one themed and aimed at raising awareness of local and global environmental issues whilst improving essential job market skills.  At the end of each module there are case studies on relevant green jobs, how to access them and career pathways.  It’s interactive and dynamic, using videos and discussion to engage and give participants a solid understanding of environmental literacy.

We’ve started piloting our UK version with groups here in east London.  We worked with a group of young people on the Princes-Trust Team Programme who took the introductory ‘Fundamentals’ module and the ‘Community Organising’ module which was used to help plan their community project.  We’ve also worked with trainee bike mechanics on Bikework’s ‘Cycle into Work’ scheme, running the fundamentals, transport and community organising modules.  We’ve had really positive feedback from participants, some learning “the importance of not wasting stuff”, another saying he would “Look into how [he] could incorporate eco friendly ideas in [his] business plan.”  The course aims to inspire and empower; one trainee left saying “I definitely want to have a green job!! I knew that already, but this class opened my eyes.”

And we’re planning more; we’ll soon be delivering the training with volunteers at Hackney City Farm, with trainee construction workers and homeless people at Crisis Skylight to help broker people facing barriers to employment into green and decent work;  helping to tackle massive youth unemployment and climate change.

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