The Challenges of Introducing Environmental Issues into the Skills Agenda

Dr R G Evans FCGI.

Education and training must play a significant part in addressing the critical issues currently confronting the planet including those associated with the environment. These include energy, food and water shortages and the consequences of global warming, pollution control, land reclamation and over population. Clearly in spite of a number of sceptics, many people recognise the dangers of overlooking these issues. There is a growing consensus that science and technology can provide some of the solutions in addition to creating  new jobs and occupations. In spite of the current economic climate of austerity, recession and high unemployment – especially amongst young people – this is surely the time to accelerate investment in the skills that can tackle these issues.

New skills must be developed and applied to the existing and emerging scientific and technology knowledge base. This present daunting challenges for education and training institutions, including:

  • The urgent need for greater awareness of the importance of ecological issues.
  • New managerial and organisational structures in institutions.
  • Fundamental reviews and reforms of the existing curriculum.
  • Introduction of multidisciplinary subjects and programmes.
  • Higher profile and importance of scientific (both biological and physical), technical and mathematical subjects;  and hence a significant increase in the number studying these subjects.
  • Development of a new set of skills that will match the occupational needs of these ecological subjects.

One of the key challenges is in ensuring that the curriculum is relevant, up to date and fit for purpose. This  means  new qualifications and awards for multidisciplinary subjects and more enlightened methods of assessment. This will require fundamental changes to the way subjects are taught and learnt.

The majority of the curriculum in institutions is still located within a collection of conceptual boxes which create constrictive and confining boundaries. Boundaries exist not only in terms of subject content but also in the way the institutions are managed, for example through  separate departments, divisions and faculties. These  structures must change by specialist departments  cooperating and working more closely together, as well as developing a holistic understanding of the nature of  challenges  confronting them.

Environmental and ecological studies will require a more enlightened approach that recognises the fusion of key disciplines such as built environment, construction, engineering, management, facilities management, mathematics and the physical and biological sciences. The approach must  be multidisciplinary and can no longer be boxed into separate subjects or disciplines. An energy technician represents a good example of this multiskilled and multidisciplinary approach. These individuals need to acquire competence, knowledge, skills and understanding to appreciate the scientific and technological aspects of their occupation. In addition the technician must be aware of the legal aspects of pollution control and management as well as energy conservation and management. Therefore the energy technician needs a curriculum and experience that is truly multidisciplinary and utilises fully an institution’s expertise and resources.

One major concern is the apparent  reluctance of many young people to pursue courses that involve scientific, technological and mathematical content. Enrolments in these courses and programmes have continued to decline over a number of decades and various campaigns to increase enrolments have largely failed. Coupled with  this is the fact that colleges and universities have downsized, merged or even closed departments in many technical disciplines such as  construction, engineering and physical sciences. Also successive governments in this country have operated funding regimes which discriminate against higher-cost lower-recruiting technical and practical based subjects; preferring instead to fund lower-cost populist subjects.

In addition, as the country lost its manufacturing base, young people were deterred from studying construction, engineering and science because they perceived these fields  as failing to offer secure careers. Therefore if attitudes to the study of scientific and technical subjects are to be encouraged to change, it  must be recognised that part of the strategy  needs to be linked to increasing the capability and capacity of institutions to cater for growth. This  needs long term recognition and commitment from successive parliaments. It will not be a quick fix. A whole series of strategies needs to be introduced including:

  • Comprehensive systems of careers information advice and guidance (CIAG) at all education sectors to encourage students to pursue these courses
  • The  courses and programmes need to receive adequate resources ie financial, physical and human.
  • More credibility and appropriately qualified and experienced teachers need to be recruited supported with effective CPD programmes.
  • Awarding bodies need to create new qualifications and awards – City and Guilds have already made a good start with their green skills qualifications initiative.
  • Establishment a parity of esteem between technical and the so-called academic subjects.
  • Produce more highly qualified crafts and trades people, technicians, technologists , and environment scientists

The challenges are immense but if successfully implemented could greatly contribute to tackling one of the major problems facing this country and the world.

Website: skillsdevelopment.org

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