It’s been 3 months since the East London Green Jobs Alliance officially launched, amidst a fanfare of green hard hats and organic nibbles. We are a coalition of trade unions, NGOs, community based organisations and green businesses working together to create green and decent jobs for East London citizens. Our current mission is to create a ‘green jobs pipeline’ that will prepare young people who face barriers to employment for entry-level jobs in the green trades. By taking participants through a training programme that encompasses pre-employment skills, vocational skills, financial literacy, wraparound support services, environmental literacy, and an apprenticeship or work placement, we aim for this “jobs pipeline” to create a bridge into decent, well-paid work and a promising future career.
That’s our north star, and that’s where we’re heading. But the road is a little bumpy, and there are a few obstacles getting in our way. I’ve had loads of questions recently about what those obstacles are, especially from policy-minded people who are curious about what life is like ‘on the ground’. So I thought I’d share!
The only thing certain is uncertainty
Government is sending more mixed messages than your ex. One day they are the ‘greenest government ever’, the next they are slashing solar feed-in tariffs by 50%, threatening 4,000 businesses across the UK and 25,000 solar jobs. All the conversations we had been having, and relationships we had been building with solar and renewables companies came to a grinding halt in November. Phone calls and emails went unanswered, as these companies rushed to do as much work as they could before the December 12th deadline. What looked like a very promising market will now be making hundreds of people redundant in the new year.
One thing I have noticed on the ‘green jobs circuit’, is that no one knows who to talk to in government. There is no one person, or department, who has green jobs in their remit. Is it DECC (the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change)? Is it DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), or BIS (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills)? No one knows. If you do find someone to talk to, how do you know they will communicate with anyone else within government? You don’t.
Communities need support, and to support each other
I’ve heard that the domestic retrofitting policies that government have implemented, or are planning on implementing, need much more work and engagement with ‘hard to reach’ communities to ensure sufficient take-up. The plan is to encourage community groups to take on this front-line work, as they have more legitimacy and credibility within communities. Although this might be true, this vastly underestimates the scale of what needs to happen to ensure buy-in from these communities. Flyers need to be printed, doors must be knocked, miles walked, volunteers organised, awareness training delivered. For this to get going effectively, money needs to be set aside.
Communities must also foster a culture of information-sharing and support if we are to succeed in our mission. Too often, the sense of competition for funds and contracts amongst different bodies can encourage a culture of gate-keeping, which limits the potential of smaller programmes. That’s why I’m loving bringing different people together in the Alliance, to help us share opportunities and support each other in our work.
In the current economic climate, these barriers will not be specific to the green sector – jobs are just scarce. Employers don’t feel they can guarantee enough work to see out a full apprenticeship placement, and short-term panic seems to be taking precedence over long-term strategy.
Whilst apprenticeships are often touted as the ideal route for getting at least some of the one million young people unemployed into the labour market, these opportunities are not as accessible to young people as commonly thought. As employers struggle to retain existing workers they are opting to train up the staff they have rather than take on a young apprentice. This is why over-25s now account for 40% of the total number of new apprentices while the growth in the number of under-19s starting apprenticeships has slowed, growing by 10% in the last academic year, from 17.5% the year before. Of course, it’s incredibly important for those already in careers to be able to advance and ‘green up’, but we need to try to ensure that, where possible, these apprenticeships create new jobs and that young people are best-placed to fill them.
The needs of training providers/colleges and those of employers can be totally at odds. I heard of one example where, after successfully placing students from an FE college into apprenticeships, the college had to record those successful placements as ‘drop-outs’ from the course when reporting back to the government. This resulted in their funding being cut. Crazy.
…what are we talking about again?
Lastly, we need to pin down what we’re talking about. We need a singular definition of what a ‘green job’ is to help job centres, careers advisors, teachers, and employers identify opportunities in the green sector, and opportunities for ‘greening up’ existing careers.
So, that’s what I’ve come across. But whatever the barriers, at the end of the day there is much work to be done to make the transition to a green economy, and many eager to do it. We cannot afford to delay further. It’s time to knock down those walls… or maybe just insulate them.
This blog has been cross-posted from nef (the new economics foundation) blog