Businesses must empower young people to act against the climate crisis

With the world ready to descend on Glasgow in a matter of weeks, the climate agenda is firmly on everyone’s mind – from businesses, to consumers, to policymakers, to activists. A particular focus in recent weeks has been engagement with young people, with new research showing that 60% of 16- to 25-year-olds feel worried about the climate crisis. As the generation that will be facing the fallout if we fail to curtail our impact on the planet and fail to cut carbon emissions in the long-term, businesses have a responsibility to help empower them to act and do their part.

Young talent will be vital for building the net-zero workforce needed to tackle climate change and achieve a greener future. But to leverage their potential and skillsets, we need to ensure they feel able to get involved and actively make a difference. As we mark National Grad Week this year (18-22 October), one way to start is through graduate programmes that have a focus on climate and sustainability. Graduate schemes, as with apprenticeship schemes, can help young people shape and develop their skills so that they are better able to tackle challenges ahead.

At National Grid, we want to enable our graduates to be part of the workforce delivering on climate change goals, with a big focus on professional growth and skills development through different courses and training either virtually or at venues including our world-class academy in Eakring. Graduate programmes can give students from all backgrounds exposure to green jobs and roles, whether that’s driving a business’ internal sustainability agenda, supporting on external projects that will help the UK reduce emissions or developing new solutions to overcome issues on the road to net zero. They can also give young people hands-on experience of working in different green jobs and set them up for long-term careers.

Beyond graduate and apprenticeship schemes, we’ve also found that workshops and sessions that highlight different areas of the climate crisis, from energy to transport to consumer goods, and more, can be really impactful in engaging with young people. There are a number of external organisations such as Generating Genius and MyKindaFuture that work with schools and young people to raise awareness of the climate crisis and highlight the different ways they can act.

This can include work experience programmes that provide insight into different sectors that are proactively tackling climate change, what careers in areas such as science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) involve, or talks from experts working in key areas such as, for example, the shift to electric vehicles. We recently trialled interactive workshops with problem solving tasks and saw how they can also help young people start to think about some of the major issues or challenges facing the climate agenda, inspire potential sustainability professionals of the future and in some cases spark new interest in net-zero.

For many young people, feeling personally empowered or able to act can come from role models that resonate with them – whether that’s through their background, interests, aspirations, role models can be a powerful way to drive engagement in the climate agenda. National Grid research among young people shows that 52% recognise David Attenborough as their top climate change hero, followed by Greta Thunberg (30%). Within our business, many of our female engineers and senior leaders have inspired more young girls and women to consider roles in the energy sector. More visible role models in different jobs with different backgrounds will be critical to getting young people from all corners of the country enthused about fighting climate change.

Young people are more climate aware now than ever before and showing them how they can make a difference and be part of the UK’s effort in delivering on government climate goals is something all businesses need to do if we’re to maximise their potential and tackle this issue. Our Voices for Greener Future competition is looking to do just that, giving young people the opportunity to share their ideas on how to look after the planet with leaders at COP26. Whether it’s helping them have a voice on how we can tackle the crisis, proactively engaging with them on the steps they can take, providing work schemes and programmes to develop their skills and understanding of the net-zero journey – employers have an important role to play in empowering the current generation to act.

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