RCE Denmark Present 'Apprentices for Sustainability' Project at Conference in Danish Parliament

(Submitted by RCE Denmark, with edits from Global RCE Service Centre)

For almost two years, Copenhagen's carpentry apprentices, together with RCE Denmark and NEXT Education Copenhagen, have investigated how together they can change construction in a sustainable direction through education. Last week, they were invited to present their results at a conference in the Danish Parliament. 

The pilot project, 'Apprentices for Sustainability,' has examined if and how the SDGs translate into action competencies of apprentices in the carpentry program at NEXT Education Copenhagen. In late August, carpenter apprentice, Laura Heiberg and RCE contact David Rangan from 'Apprentices for Sustainability', were invited to talk about the project's results and political recommendations to a conference in the Danish Parliament. Going forward, we expect to be advisors to the government in developing the vocational school area in a more culturally inclusive and sustainable direction. 

These are some of the things we discovered:

  1. The apprentices have been a driving force in the project – interest and demand for knowledge and competencies for sustainable construction and the motivation to acquire new knowledge has been crucial. The apprentices themselves have arranged after-work visits to companies that build sustainably.
  2. The project has changed the culture and recruitment for the educational program – apprentices and teachers have together explored new ways of building in an exploratory learning process. Several girls have applied for the program, which has given rise to reflections on the culture of education and the industry.
  3. The project has empowered apprentices with the skills and motivation for sustainable development – the ability to do something for the environment has motivated and created energy.
  4. A holistic understanding of sustainability has been developed including people, planet and prosperity – the project has focused on craft knowledge, process-professional knowledge for organisational development and holistic understanding.
  5. The transition to sustainability in education must take place in partnerships – the transition can only take place if different competencies are brought into play together. There is a need to expand teacher’s knowledge.
  6. Apprentices are ambassadors in the transition to sustainability – there are several examples of masters being inspired by the apprentices and starting to use sustainable building methods. 'Apprentices for Sustainability' is based on several years of demand from carpentry apprentices. As part of their education, they want to be involved in sustainable development. The pilot project shows that the field of vocational training is strengthened by 'teaching on sustainability', through providing carpentry apprentices with professional, practical, capacity for action for sustainable development. We have indications that the development of sustainability teaching in carpentry education changes culture. The tone and values become more inclusive. We have several examples that this development is not limited to the school, but has spread among masters, builders, interest groups and wood loaders as an increased awareness and demand. In addition, there are several examples of apprentices who have participated in the project and have become sustainable entrepreneurs. The apprentices have acted as ambassadors.

Through nine workshops, relevant knowledge has been anchored in the carpenter's main course teaching at NEXT. These workshops have been held for both apprentices and professional teachers together. Stakeholders such as the local education committee, NGOs and think tanks have also participated. This multicultural approach has created driving force and practical professional knowledge. We have learned that sustainable development is something we do together. The workshops have focused on communicating practical professional competencies on how carpenters locally can perform and build sustainably, while reflecting on which global issues they help solve. We've called it Learn Locally Think Globally. There have been different possible degrees of participation in the project. We have seen this option give impetus to the project. We have called it professional volunteering. Because it is not a finished knowledge, but a knowledge in development, we have focused on identifying the questions we could not answer and bringing in specialists to discuss it. These we have called pop-up-workshops.

In the 1.5 years of the pilot project, some 50 main courses of six weeks have been completed, with an average of 20 apprentices in each class. All apprentices have had the opportunity to learn the basics of sustainable building methods, as well as to relate to their trades' organisation through the Danish labor market model, tax system, welfare model, working environment legislation, and cooperative companies from a sustainability perspective. In addition to this, 2-6 apprentices in each main course have chosen to upskill themselves by learning to build sustainable construction methods at a specialised level. Here they have learned to build the normal complicated building structures of the main course, but with sustainable construction methods. The pilot project has focused on a main project that in 2024 can train the first carpenters certified in sustainable construction.

The primary challenge has been to find and anchor the relevant knowledge in the project. This includes knowledge about Danish building standards and sustainable construction methods within the wood trades, knowledge of global economic, social and environmental issues and solutions related to the wood trades and the labor market and knowledge of sustainability didactics and change processes. These are very different forms of special knowledge which need to be synthesised into a new whole. We have called it our best example. An example that strengthens the apprentices' understanding of the strengths of democracy and the welfare system in a global sustainable context and teaches them construction methods with materials that during production reduce carbon emissions by up to 150% compared to conventional materials.

Both the UN resolution, UNESCO’S strategy and study, as well as the DEG study, point to major potentials in the development of the field of vocational training. That a practical competence development of sustainable craft methods can both strengthen Denmark's participation in the sustainable transition and at the same time make vocational school education more attractive as an educational choice. The pilot project 'Apprentices for Sustainability' has shown that all of this is possible.