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Bridging the Gap: barriers and solutions for young people entering the environmental sector

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Logo: Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

By Sam Buckton

Ribblehead Viaduct by Tim Hill (Pixabay)
Ribblehead Viaduct by Tim Hill (Pixabay)

The environmental sector is both a rewarding but challenging sector for young people to enter. The sector also lags behind many others in terms of (especially ethnic) diversity. This is a sorry state of affairs given the vital importance of fostering new generations of environmentalists in a world increasingly ravaged by biodiversity loss and climate change. As young people on Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Tomorrow’s Natural Leaders (TNL) Programme, we felt that change was needed and took it upon ourselves to facilitate it.

Mya-Rose Craig, a.k.a. Birdgirl (right), with participants on one of her Black2Nature nature camps for inner-city Visible Ethnic Minority (VME) teenagers. (Mya-Rose Craig)
Mya-Rose Craig, a.k.a. Birdgirl (right), with participants on one of her Black2Nature nature camps for inner-city Visible Ethnic Minority (VME) teenagers. (Mya-Rose Craig)

During the final year of the programme (2019/20), in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we decided to organise a survey and online youth conference to address the barriers faced by young people and those from minority backgrounds wanting to enter the environmental sector, and discuss some possible solutions.

We sent an online survey to environmental sector organisations (ESOs) in summer 2020, asking (amongst other things) about the representation of young and/or Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees in their organisation; if they valued young people in the workforce and why; what qualifications and experience are typically required for entry-level jobs; what opportunities they had for young people; and what barriers they thought faced young people wanting to enter the sector. We also organised and delivered a conference (the ‘Bridging the Gap conference’) on Zoom on International Youth Day 2020 (12 August), bringing together young people interested in entering the environmental sector and ESO representatives. The conference included discussions in breakout rooms along with presentations from two inspiring young environmentalists, Mya-Rose Craig (a.k.a. Birdgirl) and Joshua Styles, as well as Stephanie Lynch of Groundwork UK.

Fifty-five different ESOs responded to our survey. We found many of the results interesting and not necessarily what we would have expected. The main results are summarised in the table below.

Summary of survey results

The responses to our question about barriers facing young people entering the environmental sector were remarkable – they were often lengthy, impassioned, detailed, eloquent and inspiring. We got the sense that ESOs cared strongly about the problems young people face, valued young people in the sector and were keen to remedy the situation. ESOs’ comments on barriers and solutions were incorporated into ‘Bridging the Gap cards’, aimed at ESOs and young people, containing summaries of problems and ideas for overcoming them. These cards are provided as individual documents separate from the main report.

Participants on Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Tomorrow’s Natural Leaders programme (plus staff) doing some socially distanced scything at Askham Bog in September 2020. Photo: George Hoey
Participants on Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Tomorrow’s Natural Leaders programme (plus staff) doing some socially distanced scything at Askham Bog in September 2020. Photo: George Hoey

At the Bridging the Gap conference, which received enthusiastically positive feedback from attendees, issues of diversity within the environmental sector were discussed along with general barriers and solutions for young people entering the sector. Points from these discussions were recorded on Trello boards during the conference and subsequently incorporated into the Bridging the Gap cards. A recording of the conference (minus breakout room discussions) can be viewed here

Our main recommendations arising from the ESO survey are for ESOs to continue striving to increase the (especially ethnic) diversity of their workforce, and to recognise the value that young people can bring to their organisation as an extra incentive to provide more opportunities for young people entering the environmental sector. Other recommendations arising from the survey and conference, including campaign ideas and advice for young people, can be found in the Bridging the Gap cards. We plan to re-survey ESOs in the future to assess whether longer-term impacts have been achieved, including an increase in the number of opportunities available to young people in the environmental sector, the number of young people and people from minority backgrounds in ESOs, and the number of partnerships between ESOs and educational institutions.

Logo: Our Bright Future (Heritage Lottery Funded)

The Bridging the Gap project has been a brilliant demonstration of young people working together to bring about positive change. We think that a young voice is an essential component of any organisation. This is why opportunities such as the TNL programme – which gave 16- to 24-year-olds hands-on conservation experience and the chance to design and lead projects to inspire other young people about conservation – are so important in the environmental sector. We are hugely grateful to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for supporting us during the programme and hope that the Trust along with other ESOs continue to foster a strong youth voice as they face the challenges of the future.

The link to the folder containing all documents is here

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