Are 'slow-to-adjust' business schools contributing to the sustainability skills gap?
EXCLUSIVE: Business schools are contributing to the sustainability skills gap by failing to offer enough environmental and ecological education, despite an increasing demand from businesses.
That’s the view of Ben Kellard, the head of sustainable business at non-profit organisation Forum for the Future.
The issue of a skills gap has become increasingly prominent in the past year, after a survey from IEMA found that just 13% of businesses were confident they had the skills to successfully compete in a modern sustainable economy.
In the same survey, 53% of companies admitted they were unable to recruit environment and sustainability professionals with the right skills.
IEMA itself has co-launched a scheme to increase environmental training, while the Government recently opened a dedicated National College of Wind Energy. However, Kellard believes traditional businesses schools still have an important role to play.
Kellard told edie: “We’re starting to see some schools take a lead on sustainable skills, like the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Learning, Ashridge, Cranfield, but the sector in general is way behind the curve,” Kellard said. “They’re not leading their students into this area and they’re struggling to keep up with what organisations want.”
Kellard recommended that these schools should try and embed sustainability skills into ‘normal’ classes – making water stewardship a part of a management or finance programme, for example. When asked why schools were failing to supply the type of skills needed by an ever-increasing number of businesses, Kellard highlighted a variety of systemic reasons.
He said: “A lot of business schools are fragmented, with individuals running various faculties, with quite embedded cultures, making it difficult for new ideas to get in.
“I also don’t think they necessarily developed the right relationships with key businesses and I don’t think they’ve invested enough of their own research into these areas, so perhaps don’t know enough about the area to teach it.
“Another problem is that sustainability is a very uncertain discipline – we can’t be sure what it will look like in the future. We know there will be profound and systemic change, but how do you teach a topic that is constantly evolving?"
Kellard suggested that any sustainability course should focus on teaching processes and skills – like how to deal with uncertainty – rather than direct actions.
Mind the gap
For its part, Forum for the Future is looking to collaborate with business schools to share teachable insights from its work with major businesses, including O2, GSK and Coca-Cola. The group also works with the ‘pioneering’ business schools - such as Ashridge - to develop programmes which it hopes will then trickle down into the mainstream.
Finally, the group is communicating with the National College of Teachers about how to get sustainability into the curriculum, as suggested by another IEMA poll but, as Kellard put it, “that’s a long way off.”
Ben Kellard at edie's Sustainability Skills Workshop
Forum for the Future's head of sustainable business Ben Kellard is among the expert speakers at edie’s inaugural Sustainability Skills Workshop, which takes place in London on 26 January 2016
Kellard will be presenting a talk on the skills needed to build a career in sustainability.