Marks & Spencer, for example, decided to invest over two million pounds in sustainability training and implementing this philosophy throughout the organisation. It started with staff looking at what was happening right down the supply chain and to think about the future, so that they could identify where they could intervene now to achieve sustainable outcomes. Through reducing waste, recycling things like coat hangers and working through what happens with clothes – M&S now works with Oxfam and other charitable outlets to enable people to swap items – they both saved money and enhanced their reputation, because this is what is important to customers. It is this kind of ‘futures approach’ that could be used in VET systems to promote sustainability.
How can we reform VET systems to make economies work in a more sustainable fashion?
Research shows that individuals most want to feel good about themselves, sustain great relationships, make transactions and take decisions about where they live – to beautify their towns or cities and think about how to improve the quality of their environment. It is important to remember that there are around five billion people of working age in the world and only a fraction are in a job where someone else pays them. Thinking about how difficult the future will be suggests we need to focus on how we build the capacity of people to better secure their livelihoods in a range of ways. Vocational Education and Training systems need to be able to do that. We need to develop people’s capacity to engage in lifelong learning so that they can adapt their knowledge and skills and, if necessary, be able to move from job to job. Specifically, sustainability competences should be integrated into everything and not just treated as an add-on module. That means cooks, builders, managers, hairdressers and everybody else should know how to work in a way that contributes to resilient social and environmental sustainability and wellbeing.
We need to think about futures in the world of work and how individuals can secure their livelihoods in difficult times. There are both difficulties and opportunities and it is important to ask what vocational education and training can do to give people the skills to participate.
The VET system needs to future proof its learning and skills policy, institutions and delivery mechanisms to ensure that it is not busy equipping people with a whole set of skills that will quickly get out-of-date.