RCE East Midlands - 2022

Sustainability Skills for Regional Employers - towards collaboration with tertiary educators
Basic Information
Title of project : 
Sustainability Skills for Regional Employers - towards collaboration with tertiary educators
Submitting RCE: 
RCE East Midlands
Contributing organization(s) : 
De Montfort University
University of Leicester
Change Agents UK (working with Education and Training Foundation)
Focal point(s) and affiliation(s)
Dr Andrew Reeves
Organizational Affiliation: 
De Montfort University
Dr Sandra Lee
Organizational Affiliation: 
University of Leicester
Lexie Jones
Organizational Affiliation: 
Change Agents UK
Charlotte Bonner
Organizational Affiliation: 
Education and Training Foundation
Language of project: 
Date of submission:
Thursday, September 8, 2022
UK Net Zero Strategy
At what level is the policy operating?: 
Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy (for England by UK Dept for Education)
At what level is the policy operating?: 
Geographical & Education Information
United Kingdom
Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland
Address of focal point institution for project: 
De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, LE1 9BH
Target Audience:
Employers, including businesses, voluntary sector and local government
Socioeconomic and environmental characteristics of the area : 
Leicester is a city in the English midlands with a population of approximately 350,000, set within the county of Leicestershire (adjoining Rutland) which has a number of market towns and many villages, within a landscape where livestock farming dominates. Leicester has two universities, an economy dominated by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and is relatively deprived in terms of income and education compared to many other comparable UK cities. Leicestershire and Rutland are rural counties, with one university, with land use focussed on agriculture and a number of nationally significant businesses including logistics/distribution centres focussed around the motorway running through the county.
Description of sustainable development challenge(s) in the area the project addresses: 
Addressing the climate emergency and sustainable development issues such as waste management or developing a circular economy requires changes in ways of working for all employers. Local stakeholders had identified challenges in recruiting and retaining staff with the knowledge and skills to address this agenda. This project sought to shed light on the nature of these challenges and potential solutions involving collaboration between employers and the regions tertiary education providers.
March, 2022
The project team had anecdotal evidence of challenges in addressing sustaiability skills in local organisations, but sought a richer understanding of if and how this issue was manifesting, to better inform a strategic response by tertiary educators, working with local employers. In the current UK Higher Education landscape, with an increasing focus on the Civic Role of universities, a wide range of opportunities exist for enhanced partnerships, including short top-up courses for existing staff at organisations, delivery of standalone courses (e.g carbon literacy training) and working with businesses on taught courses (e.g. via placements or knowledge exchange activities). Thus the work offered a chance to scope the need for better collaboration to address sustainability skills alongn with identifying specific opportunities for future collaboration.
We were guided by the overall research question of: How can tertiary education providers and employers strategically enhance collaboration to address sustainability skills gaps in the region?

Specifically, we wanted to identify:
• perceived needs and motivations for sustainability skills amongst different stakeholders and how these matched, or not;
• current provision arrangements for developing sustainability skills, and existing collaborative arrangements;
• key local economic opportunities and challenges in relation to Net Zero and sustainable business practices including skills gaps to address;
• emerging policy contexts;
• recommended actions for stakeholders to enhance provision and collaboration relating to sustainability skills.
Activities and/or practices employed: 
The project combined a range of activities to identify views of stakeholders and to pilot some interventions to move forward with collaborative approaches to address sustainability skills:

- Desk-based research to identify the state of sustainability skills nationally and in the region
- Stakeholder engagement through interviews with employers (8), higher education staff (7), students (12) and other stakeholders concerned with local economic development (2) to identify conceptualisation, progress and challenges with addressing regional sustainability skills
- Pilot delivery and evaluation of student training on opportunities to address sustainability through their future career (46 attendees)
- Presentation of findings at Experts Reference Group meeting, for Leicester-area stakeholders working on energy and climate issues (10 attendees)
- Delivery of 'Sustainability Skills Summit' 3-hour event to engage with wider stakeholder audience from employers, local government on findings (38)
Size of academic audience: 
A key finding was that employers appeared not to view the concept of 'sustainability skills' as a core need - demonstrated through responses or non-engagement in the research. This suggests that interventions for employers need to respond to their perceived priorities and needs, whilst acknowledging the value of cross-cutting and specialist 'soft' and 'hard' skills for addressing sustainability issues.

There are a range of short-term and longer-term opportunities to enhance collaboration between employers and tertiary educators to enhance sustainability skills regionally, through interventions such as work-based placements, top-up courses for existing staff, provision of training leading to specialist green jobs and more. The one-off sessions on sustainability-focussed careers were very popular with students from a range of disciplines that joined.
Lessons learned: 
The project had strong engagement from universities and local government, both through interviews and the stakeholder event. This highlights good interest from a range of stakeholder organisations in this agenda and potential for future collaborative work.

In contrast, we struggled to recruit employers to provide their views. This mirrored the finding of a lack of clarity/motivation around 'sustainabilty' as an abstract concept - further employer engagement could usefully focus upon self-identified needs from employers around more accessible concepts such as their future planning, resilience and community benefit.

Key messages: 
Employers lack a strong understanding of what specialist and organisation-wide 'sustainability skills' they need - policy/regulation is a likely need to drive widespread engagement.
Tertiary educators and employers regionally can enhance their collaborative links through existing taught courses, new top-up courses for staff, placements and more to address this agenda.
Relationship to other RCE activities: 
The project has built upon long-standing collaborative work between RCE members DMU, UoL and local authorities in the Leicester area to address climate and energy challenges through partnership projects and local networks (including the Leicester Environmental Experts Reference Group).
This work was funded through the ESRC Local Accelerator Fund: Leicester (ES/W011727/1) and delivered through the Universities Partnership (https://universitiespartnership.org), a Civic University collaboration between universities and community stakeholders in the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland area.
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs) and other themes of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
SDG 4 - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all 
SDG 8 - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all 
SDG 11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable 
SDG 12 - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns 
SDG 13 - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts 
Curriculum Development 
ESD for 2030-Priority Action Areas
Priority Action Area 1 - Advancing policy 
Priority Action Area 2 - Transforming learning and training environments 
Priority Action Area 3 - Developing capacities of educators and trainers 
Priority Action Area 5 - Accelerating sustainable solutions at local level 
I acknowledge the above: