Green jobs offer key to youth employment

The government should support the environmental sector, which can offer fulfilling work for young people, says Hanna Thomas

As we slide back into double dip recession, the picture for many of the UK’s young people is bleak. Youth unemployment is soaring, and the number of 18-24 year olds on the dole for more than a year has increased eightfold since 2008. Why is this happening? One explanation might be that 18-24 year olds have become eight times lazier since 2008. The other is that our government’s current strategies designed to deal with youth unemployment, such as the Work Programme and Workfare, are not working.

Rather than asking our young people to work for Tesco for free, we need to be identifying the sectors that can and will provide decent employment opportunities in the coming years. We need to be asking where the opportunities are which will propel this upcoming generation into a future that’s not just bearable, but bright.

We at the East London Green Jobs Alliance – a coalition of trade unions, NGOs, community based organisations and green businesses working together to create green and decent jobs for East London citizens – have identified one of those sectors; the environmental sector. We want to match up the people that need the work with the work that needs to be done.

We have strong environmental targets here in the UK, including a commitment to cut our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, according to the Climate Change Act. In order to reach these targets, massive investment will have to be made into our energy and transport infrastructure, to create cleaner and greener ways to power our society. And that means an increase in people power and jobs.

As people get wise to other environmental issues affecting their lives, such as air pollution and fuel poverty, we hope that even more fulfilling and meaningful work will be created that will help improve environmental quality. We want to see opportunities to create careers from retrofitting empty properties and bringing them back into use, tending to our green spaces and managing our waste in a way that doesn’t endanger our environment or the health of local communities.

“Green jobs can provide dignified work, a living wage and opportunities for career progression”

These are the green and decent jobs we’re looking for – jobs that provide dignified work, a living wage, opportunities for career progression, and that have stewardship of our environment at their core. That’s why we’re working on a project in East London to create a ‘greener jobs pipeline’, working in partnership with The Otesha Project UK, Tower Hamlets College and TTB Community Draught Busters to create pathways into employment for approximately 15 young people who want to work in the green trades.

Having commenced in May, the pipeline will prepare young people who face barriers to employment, for entry-level jobs in the energy efficiency industry. Participants will go through a training programme that encompasses pre-employment skills, vocational skills, wraparound support services, environmental literacy, and a work placement in the green trades, and they will all be paid the London living wage (£8.30p/h). We aim for this pipeline to create a bridge into decent, well-paid work and promising future careers.

We hope that this pilot will be a groundbreaking demonstration of what is possible – reducing youth unemployment in East London, having a positive environmental impact, building capacity within local organisations and businesses, and putting green jobs higher up the political agenda.

Programmes like this cost money, and creating opportunities takes time and commitment from groups like ours as well as the government. But what better investment can we make than an investment in future generations and the environment that supports us?