We held a roundtable event with a small number of young people in May 2021. While not designed to be representative of the views of any larger population, the event enabled us to speak directly with a small number of students and apprentices, to hear anecdotal evidence and their perspectives on green jobs. Anonymised quotes from participants at the event have been included below, for illustrative purposes.
On what the term ‘green jobs’ means to the participants:
A green job to me means doing something for the environment.
A green job for me is working in an industry that makes a difference, that makes a good change to the surroundings.
For me, ‘green jobs’ means low carbon transition, but that’s because I’m focused on the renewable energy industry.
For me, a green job is anything that is related to the wellbeing of the environment; that ranges from contributing to reducing the impact of climate change, to lower carbon emissions, to the reduction of toxic chemicals used in our everyday life.
If it’s in the reusing or recycling economy, I feel that’s a green job.
When you look at work done on green spaces, it has a positive effect on people’s wellbeing, and you have doctors playing their role in the sustainability of the world, so [a green job is one in which] you provide a situation where the future generations can benefit from the resources just as much as we are doing now.
Moving forward there will be no separation between green jobs and jobs, because if you want something green, it will be embedded in every facet. So, there are financial organisations that are funding projects but doing it sustainably. When you’re looking in the future, there will be jobs, but they’ll have the green aspect embedded.
On the attractiveness of green jobs in comparison with other sectors:
From my experience, when you look at the pay compared to other jobs, in finance for example, I’m at a disadvantage. Even though I’m doing something to sustain the world’s growth, I’m not getting much in return in terms of money, so that’s a pay-off you have to deal with.
I feel like there’s not as much respect towards green jobs at the moment and right now we can’t pick and choose. Any job is a job, and going forward we want these jobs to have more prestige, [be] more aspirational, because it makes a big difference compared to other jobs.
For me green jobs are prestigious and [it] makes me feel content doing something for the environment and future generations. I feel like I’m leaving an earth that is sustainable and liveable for the next generation, for my babies and grandchildren and that’s a good feeling for me. In terms of financial return, it’s not as good as other corporate jobs, but it gives you immense satisfaction, which matters at the end of the day.
Financially it’s not as well respected. Being young, you’ve got a house to save for, you want to go out with friends; it’s expensive. And that financial respect bit is in our older colleagues too. They aren’t as bothered about the environment; they’ve had their jobs for years and they don’t respect [you] as much when you talk about the environment. People say, “oh, that’s not a good career, you want to get into engineering, fixing cars, something like that.”
On how easy it is to find out about green job opportunities:
Finding one as an apprentice is hard because apprenticeships are hard to get. The one I got, there were 300 applicants for ten jobs. So, to aim for a green job makes it even harder to find something.
I always knew I wanted to get into aviation. But on how easy it was to find a green job, I found it impossible. I feel like apprenticeships are one of the best things that’s happened to me, because you pick up a fresh mind that’s full of ideas and put that seed in your company and that’s what green jobs need.
For me, as part of my course we get resources linking to sites advertising green jobs. The problem is, I read an [Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment] report that said about 3.1% of people in environmental industries are from an ethnic minority or black, so when you look at things like that, it’s not encouraging as an ethnic minority; you’re not getting into the jobs.
On how well education had prepared participants for finding and securing a green job:
Coming from an academic background, you’re given a broad spectrum, so as a fresher going into the jobs market you don’t have a role in mind and are encouraged to apply for a wide range of jobs and it can be mind boggling. From an academic background, it’s daunting trying to get that first role.
There wasn’t much for us at school about green jobs or the future of jobs and that was six years ago for me, which isn’t long.
I’ve always been interested in the environment, but when it came to my friends at school, no one was interested, even [for] those [who] did biology, it was something to tick off and have on your CV. And a lot of my friends still aren’t; if I start talking about it, they’re not interested at all. And in the classroom, we had climate change awareness week, but everyone just saw it as a way to get off something else, and no one listened. I think [we need to] make people in schools aware of how devastating it will be and it will affect them.
I’ve studied across lots of different countries, and you don’t get sustainability embedded across the curriculum. Even now at university it feels like it’s taken as a different subject. If we think of green jobs as something encompassing jobs beyond the direct impact on the environment, it’s not assimilated across the curriculum at any stage and you need to have that interest to pursue it as a subject on its own.
When I was in school, I wrote about climate change, but we didn’t realise the magnitude of climate change. The curriculum doesn’t focus on the immensity of climate change and its harm.
I think it should be added to the curriculum: not just climate change, but jobs behind it and examples of people that have made a difference. My sister is in primary school and she had a green day at her school; the next day, my mum wanted to drive her but she wouldn’t let her and told her, “you’re not allowed, it’s bad for the climate.” So, starting young will make a huge difference and make it the norm.
On how easy it was for a young people to get a green job:
I’m not very optimistic about it because that 3.1% statistic isn’t encouraging. We are also disproportionately affected by climate change, because minorities tend to live in places with bad pollution and bad transport, so you need people like us with a personal perspective to help solve these issues.
It’s not a smooth journey for a young professional to get a green job. I tried to apply in the UK for all the internships, but haven’t got one so far.
I’m in a workplace already, but I want to help my company become more green and more sustainable and show how they can do that better.
On how to increase diversity and inclusion in green sectors:
One of the most important things is apprenticeships. They’re available to everybody and you don’t need to have a degree behind you to apply for one, so you aren’t limited.
If there are small scale projects, people from different backgrounds but without experience can assist with these. Big companies should have these small projects so we can join and share our ideas. That would be a great opportunity for international students.
If you’re trying to bring it to the broader public, you want to start from the grass roots. If you want to include minorities, they might benefit from apprenticeships because they don’t have the finances for universities. In discussions with my black friends, they are entrepreneurs who have seen gaps in the market and come up with ideas and solutions themselves. One of these is BPIC or Black People in Construction network, a network helping to make construction more inclusive and maybe Government can look to those sorts of entrepreneurial efforts and encourage them with finances and encourage companies to work with them. You allow people to come in and share their solutions rather than stifling them.
If you’re coming from an ethnic minority, you’re not looking at the environment as one of the first places to work because you have your family behind you and you’re thinking “how can I make money?”.
It comes back to school for me. If green jobs got pushed from a younger age and we knew that a green job is a very viable option for the future, that would [have helped to] push me down that green job avenue from a younger age.