“Being unemployed and having next to no valid qualifications can make you feel like there’s a permanent brick wall.”
That’s Chris talking, a recent graduate of The Otesha Project UK’s Branch Out green jobs training programme, which takes young, unemployed people from East London through training in practical horticulture skills and environmental literacy, and then supports them into apprenticeships and paid employment. It’s a tough market out there at the moment, and young people especially are bouncing from training course to job, to job centre. In the fifth year of a recession, we all know this.
What we also know is that there is tremendous opportunity for the young and unemployed in the green economy. We have an unprecedented challenge on our hands, what with this whole climate change thing, and there is a s**tload of work to be done, if you’ll pardon my French. Infrastructure must be built, cities insulated, systems that are so familiar dismantled and then reassembled. We have a lot of work to do. The good news is, there’s an entire generation not only available to do this work, but eager. Here’s Chris again:
“I’m finding the course useful as it teaches me how there are ways I could reduce my carbon footprint and think greener even further. I initially started the course to get an official horticulture certificate so I could match the job criteria; I passed my CSCS training thanks to the course and I’ve always had a green outlook and now going down the organic route of gardening, I’m figuring out how to merge the two.”
Chris, and others like him, are to me an inspiration. Because it’s not so easy as a young, unemployed person to up tools and get to work, however much you may want to. You may not have had access to a great education, or a stable housing situation. You may not have the money in your pocket to get the bus to your course, or job interview. You may have caring responsibilities, or you may be caught up in postcode wars that make it hard for you to travel outside your neighbourhood without feeling threatened.
That is the reality for thousands and thousands of young people in this country. The implication of that is you cannot have effective environmental policy, without effective social policy. Forget green job creation, unless you are also interested in creating the social safety net that makes it possible for people to take that job.
As detailed in a report The Otesha Project UK and Intentionality CIC published inFebruary, Green and Decent Jobs: Alliance-building for a Green Economy, green jobs training programmes must build strong relationships with social services, such as key workers, to mitigate as far as possible the risks of young people not being able to participate. Further than that, of course, the social services have to be there to build relationships with, and in the face of increasingly brutal austerity measures, we cannot take that for granted.
There are those who will say we don’t have time to take care of climate change and social inequality. That we have an ever-closing gap in which we have to rapidly decrease emissions, and that caring about creating a decent, as well as green, economy is a mere distraction. But we can’t afford not to.
One reason is we simply do not currently have the skills in this country to carry out the decarbonisation work we need to do. We have no choice but to invest in educating legions of people in the coming decades and attracting them to the green sector, whether we like it or not. The other reason is one could argue that our current system is broken because it does not hold dear the principles of decency, integrity, equality, and human compassion.
What an opportunity, and what a challenge we have, to not only fight for a world where we respect the earth we live on, but where we respect each other too.
“Being on the course has improved my job opportunities and I know where I want to be in the future.” – Chris, 23 years old.
Hanna Thomas, Lead Organiser, East London Green Jobs Alliance