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Stewarding the Green Skills agenda

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Unionlearn commissioned Capacity Global, a respected environmental think tank to conduct research on the role of trade unions in delivering skills for a green economy. This report describes how trade unions are successfully leading or 'stewarding' the transition to a green economy through frank exchanges with government on how to make industrial change just and inclusive and supporting access to training and 'green jobs' through advocacy and practical demonstration. The report contains a number of case studies that will be of interest to officers and union representatives.

Text of Stewarding the Green Skills agenda

  • Stewarding the green skills agendaA think-piece commissioned by unionlearn for the consideration of trade unions and partner organisations

  • Contents

    Foreword 2

    Acknowledgements 3

    Recommendations 4

    Introduction 5

    Progressive stewardship and expertise 7

    Setting the agenda: defining the low-carbon economy and green skills 9

    Leading by example good practice models 12

    A seat at the table unions as key partners 15

    Future forward 17

    Bibliography 20

    About unionlearn 21

    About Capacity Global 21


  • 2 S t e w a r d i n g t h e g r e e n S k i l l S a g e n d a

    Unionlearn exists to support and promote trade union learning. That includes helping to deliver the skills that the economy in England needs. In 2011, unionlearn was asked by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to promote awareness of the learning, skills and employment opportunities associated with the green economy: a broad range of skills that are collectively known in the trade union movement as green skills. This was a very welcome development drawing upon the already impressive experience and commitment of many in the trade union movement.

    The trade union movement has long been leading the debate on the industrial and skill changes needed to move to a low-carbon economy. In particular, UK unions have united with trade unions across the world to campaign for a global just transition in which global governments plan large industrial and social changes in a responsible way with regard to workers rights and livelihoods and is supportive of the particular challenges for developing countries. More recently in the UK, the Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee has made the case for strong government and active stakeholder engagement. The TUC Green Workplaces programme has shown what trade union reps can achieve in terms of reducing carbon usage with many impressive projects across the economy.

    The skills needed for a low-carbon economy are both generic and specialist in nature. Trade unions recognise the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to the green economy. But equally they want to see environmental literacy for all. Every worker in every workplace should be supported to develop a vision of working in a sustainable way. There are huge strides to be made to ensure that UK workers have the skills to help deliver industrial challenge in sectors as strategically important as power generation and supply, private and public transport, the built environment, manufacturing,

    public services and the service sector. Trade unions have been working hard to deliver these changes and this work must continue.

    Unionlearn commissioned Capacity Global to research and capture the thoughts and initiatives of full-time trade union officials who have been grappling with the challenge of delivering skills for a green economy. This report argues it is vital that trade unions build on their strong advocacy of green skills and develop the union role in stewarding the transition to a green economy, particularly with regard to employment and skills issues. Unions should also continue to innovate and support initiatives such as the Green Skills Partnership and the World Skills Environmental Science Competition described in these pages and work strategically to deliver the skills needed for a green economy. I am sure that this paper will be a valuable stimulus to new ideas and initiatives.

    Tom Wilson Director of unionlearn


  • Acknowledgements

    In writing this report Capacity Global relied on the time, advice and contribution from a number of people both within and outside the trade unions who took part in interviews and focus groups. We would like to thank the following people in the list below1.

    Mary AlysStuart BarberRichard Blakeley Nigel CostleySteve CraigSue FernsFrances OGradyRossina HarrisDavid KidneyNigel Leigh Keith MarshallJim MitchellPhilip PearsonGraham PetersenSimon Perryman Jo Pye

    In addition, thanks to individuals who allowed the author to sit in on their conversations, meetings and conversations on green jobs and skills.

    Thanks also to Maria Adebowale of Capacity Global and Richard Blakeley of unionlearn.

    1 For confidentiality reasons we have not included everyones name in the list.


  • 4 S t e w a r d i n g t h e g r e e n S k i l l S a g e n d a


    1. The trade union role with regard to skills for a low-carbon or green economy should be one of progressive stewardship.

    2. In accepting the stewardship mandate, trade unions must:

    a. demonstrate through the skills agenda that trade unions can steward a just transition: unions will have to be visible leaders and public facing

    b. be inclusive of union membership: by stepping outside policy language and helping explain how climate change relates to all working lives, unionised and non-unionised

    c. resolve conflicts between trade unions, particularly over sectoral and membership interests as the transition takes hold

    d. champion a fair transition of wages

    e. guard against exclusion and create inclusion into the job market, especially for people who have been locked out of the job market at present on the basis of educational attainment, race, age, gender or class, sexuality or disability

    f. stand up for decent and quality jobs as new green jobs are created and existing roles are greened

    g. support local and regional low-carbon economy development, particularly with regard to skills and attracting international investment

    h. champion strategic skills for a green economy, particularly science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills and be advocates for progression routes into key sectors

    i. champion environmental literacy and basic sustainability training for all workers

    j. develop good practice and union innovations including Green Skills Partnerships and the Green Workplaces programme

    k. act as a catalyst for investment in terms of public procurement reform.

    3. Trade unions should continue and advance the leadership role that they have played in public policy with regard to their championing of a progressive role for government and stakeholders: inclusive of campaigning for a strategy to ensure the management of supply and demand for the skills needed to meet the EU 2020 targets and other key climate-preserving objectives going forward.

    4. Trade unions should focus on a 2017 agenda (interim to 2020) that defines success for the union leadership role in skills for a green economy as:

    a. bringing a cross-sector workforce on board the green skills agenda

    b. acting quickly

    c. focusing on developing a green skills strategy that supports or initiates a just transition to a low-carbon economy

    d. keeping fairness on the table.

  • Introduction


    This paper is based on the reflections of union officials and those working with trade unions around the low-carbon and skills agenda in England. The reflections are based on a qualitative analysis from interviews and a focus group. Five key questions were asked of interviewees and group participants.

    The questions were designed to explore the following:

    perceived principles and ethics of trade unions defining and understanding the low-carbon

    economy and green skills ideas on the role of unions in developing

    green skills key priorities for trade unions what a successful union leadership role would

    look like by 2017.

    The intention was to focus on the union movements reflections on their role on skills for the green economy and provide a contemporary snapshot of where trade unions are and where they can play an enhanced role. For this reason the majority, around three quarters, of participants taking part in the interviews and focus groups were from trade unions. The remaining quarter were from business, government, higher education establishments and sector skills councils.

    The following sections provide an analysis of the opinions expressed about the potential opportunities, barriers and tensions in relation to the green skills agenda.

    Setting the scene

    An economy that operates on a just low-carbon model is the only way forward to tackle and mitigate climate change. Although there is no agreed definition for a low-carbon or green economy the terms are generally understood as meaning business, services and activities that are adopting more resource efficient solutions within the economy that use less carbon and directly or indirectly protect the environment2. This has implications across the economy and is inclusive of public authorities, the built environment, domestic usage, commercial offices, public transport, manufacturing, the rural and marine economy and the power generation and distribution industries.

    Climate change has been internationally accepted as a huge priority for both wealthy and poor countries. The Committee on Climate Change urged the UK government to commit unilaterally to reducing emissions of all greenhouse gases (GHGs) by at least 34 per cent in 2020 relative to 1990 levels (21 per cent relative to 2005) and by 42 per cent relative to 1990 once a global deal to reduce emissions is achieved3.

    Trade unions, along with government, civil society and business have held a responsibility to lead in creating an economy based on the principles of sustainable development, arguably since the industrial revolution. The delivery of a fair or just low-carbon economy requires leadership and a framework to shape the industrial, social, environmental and economic shifts.

    Transitioning to an efficient sustainab

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