Laying down Roots of Success in East London

30th October 2012 by

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.

 Tamsin Robertson, Otesha’s green jobs caseworker

Green Jobs – Roots of Success

5th April 2011 by

Greetings from a beautiful San Francisco!

The research trip officially ended on Friday (I’m hanging around for a holiday – yay!), but I still have at least 4 or 5 more meetings I want to write up and send out on this list over the next week or two. If you don’t want to keep receiving the emails, just let me know.

Thank you also to all the people who have been responding to me about these updates. I’m sorry I haven’t had the time to reply individually, but I have a cunning plan. I will wrap up this mailing list by doing a call-out to those who are interested in working with the East London Green Jobs Alliance specifically, and those who would like to be part of a broader conversation about taking the green economy/green jobs agenda forward. So please respond to that when the time comes!

Now, on to the next update…

A few months ago, I got in touch with Raquel Pinderhughes, who is Professor of Urban Studies at San Francisco State University. She is an expert on green collar jobs, coining the term in 2004 to describe manual labor jobs related to improvements in environmental quality. She also wrote the landmark study, Green Collar Jobs: An Analysis of the Capacity of Green Business to Provide High Quality Jobs for Men and Women with Barriers to Employment, which provided critical guidance to the Oakland Green Jobs Corp, the first green jobs training programme that implemented the model that the Pinderhughes study proposes.

I am quite obsessed with the Pinderhughes model and it is providing the blueprint for my current work with the East London Green Jobs Alliance as we design our pilot project. You can read more about the model in her report for the Ella Baker Center, Making Green Work: Best Practices in Green-Collar Job Training. So you can imagine that I was very pleased that we were scheduled to meet with her this week to learn more about the environmental literacy curriculum that Raquel has developed, called Roots of Success.

The what

  • The Roots of Success curriculum is designed to be taught in a total of 45 hours, by a certified Roots of Success trainer. The curriculum is split into themes – Water, Energy, Waste, Transportation, Building, and Food and Agriculture. There is even a theme on Community Organizing, which was developed in response to a need identified by trainers that participants wanted to take action around what they were learning within their own communities. Each theme is split into 4 parts, covering an Introduction to the issue, Problems, Solutions, and Green Jobs in the field.
  • The curriculum is designed for ages 16+, and for those who have basic numerical and literacy skills. The pedagogy is incredibly interactive and participatory, with the aim that every student feels empowered and capable.
  • The Roots of Success definition of environmental literacy – Environmentally literate people have sufficient knowledge, skills, and understanding of environmental topics and concerns to be able to analyze and make informed decisions about environmental issues. Increasing environmental literacy is essential to ensuring that everyone, at every educational level and in all sectors, is able to participate in developing a cleaner, prosperous economy and more sustainable future. It is vital to enabling disenfranchised people and communities to participate in and benefit from the green economy.

The why

  • Raquel believes that environmental literacy is an essential component of any good green jobs training model, along with more traditional components, such as job readiness training and hard skills, etc. She believes that the environmental literacy component is about giving participants the greater context of their work and the knowledge that their work is meaningful, dignified and community-serving. If participants don’t understand the scale of the environmental challenge, they might not appreciate how important their work is, which is a real motivator to keep going and complete the training and entry-level work. This is especially true for jobs in energy efficiency and construction, such as installing insulation, where the everyday reality of the job can be dusty and repetitive.

Who uses it

  • Basically every green jobs training programme we’ve met in SF uses the Roots of Success curriculum, along with over a hundred others across the country. (Check out Sustainable South Bronx for a cool East Coast example of a green jobs project!). It’s also being used by community colleges and other community groups that want to skill up their people in environmental literacy, but aren’t being trained for a job.

The good news

It’s coming to the UK! I managed to sneak in an extra afternoon with Raquel, to become the first UK certified Roots of Success trainer!

I will be working with Raquel to adapt the curriculum to make it suitable for the UK context, but we will hopefully have a new version available sometime during the summer. It is all very exciting. There is also talk of Raquel coming over to train more people to deliver the curriculum, so if you are interested, do reply to this email with “Roots of Success” in the subject line to be kept in the loop on that.

And talking of environmental literacy, read how Unionlearn are doing their bit through their green workplaces programme.


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