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Race For Nature’s Recovery - the scheme diversifying the environmental workforce

Logo: Race for Nature

By James Adeleke, Director, Generation Success. On behalf of the Race for Nature partnership

Image of James Adeleke (Race for Nature)
(Race for Nature)

In December 2020 a scheme was launched that had been many months in the making. Race for Nature’s Recovery is a new employment initiative, pioneered by a group of environmental and youth empowerment organisations. Its aim is to create new roles in the UK’s environmental sector for unemployed 16-24 year olds from predominantly Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Race for Nature’s Recovery was born as a result of a collaboration between Action for Conservation, Generation Success, Students Organising for Sustainability UK (SOS-UK) and Voyage Youth. We came together to promote the shared aim of creating a more inclusive and diverse environmental sector. Why? Because studies have shown the environmental sector to be the second least diverse workforce in the UK and with so much climate injustice happening around the world, the lack of representation in the sector must change.

The fight against climate change and ecological destruction affects everyone and homogenous workplaces can’t generate the thriving cultures, creative ideas and passion needed to tackle a problem as big, complex and all-consuming as the climate emergency. The sector must feel relevant to all those it strives to represent. So we set out to change the status quo.

We decided to use the Government’s Kickstart scheme to create over a hundred 6-month, work placements for young people. By working with the Kickstart scheme, we are able to remove financial barriers to charities that wanted to get involved and ensure we were reaching the people most in need of employment opportunities. The initial feedback from the sector was hugely encouraging and we quickly saw 35 organisations, including RSPB, Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth, and ZSL London Zoo sign-up to offer roles through the scheme. 

Crucially, we didn’t want these to be token internships or ‘shadowing’ experiences for the young people. Our target is to see at least ​​50% of these placements, which all pay at least the UK Living Wage, turn into permanent roles. We therefore encouraged the participating organisations to create fulfilling, interesting jobs in which these young people could shine. Where a permanent role beyond the initial 6-month placement isn’t possible, participants are encouraged to help create work experiences and pathways for the young people to help them access other roles and opportunities in the sector when their placements end.

An onboarding call with the Kickstarters (Race for Nature)
An onboarding call with the Kickstarters (Race for Nature)

And we were not disappointed. Roles in fundraising, social media, research, marketing, administration, and frontline conservation came flooding in. The sector could not have been more supportive and excited to back the scheme.

Our next step was to advertise the roles and get candidates lined up to interview. Each job has so far attracted a huge amount of interest and we’re delighted that 60 young people are now in their placements, with another 60 roles in the process of being filled.

Importantly, we want both the young person and the employer to get the most out of the experience. At Race for Nature we are providing each young person with over an additional 25 hours of training and career support during their 6-month placement. This includes mentoring, interview training, and support with CVs.

By doing this, we can ensure we’re not creating transient roles which fail to embed lasting change. Instead, we’re investing in the individuals and their future careers in the environmental sector, as well as helping the organisations involved to evolve their cultures and policies to help foster a more diverse workplace. Schemes such as this must strive to avoid gesture campaigns or tokenism; we must push for long-term, lasting change.

As Gill Perkins, CEO of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, who are taking part in the scheme puts it:

“We were nervous about taking on a Kickstarter in the beginning, but the process was very simple, and we got a lot of interest in our role, so much so that we decided to take on four young people instead of one. We are absolutely delighted in the quality and enthusiasm the young people have shown, they have brought an energy and creativity that previously wasn’t there, they settled in brilliantly and are making so many good things happen”.

And the feedback from the young people speaks for itself.

Sam Priyadharshan, said: 

“To be given the opportunity to work with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, through Race For Nature’s initiative, has been a complete blessing. In a world facing considerable injustice and challenge, both organisations pledge to pioneer new ways for the future. I feel honoured to be associated with them.”

Sinead Munro, who is also a Kickstarter at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, added:

"Being a part of the Race for Nature Kickstart placement scheme has been extremely rewarding. I have had the opportunity to learn from some brilliant speakers and mentors who have done lots of inspiring work to break down barriers for young people like me starting their journey into the environmental charity sector. Race for Nature has also given me the chance to network with other young people, exchanging our experiences and passions for nature alike. As I continue to develop within my role, I hope to carry on building my confidence as I develop my skills and understanding of the sector so I can go on to inspire others to continue the positive strives towards environmental conservation and inclusivity."

While we are still onboarding new charities and creating new roles through the scheme, we’re focusing on transforming as many of our Kickstart placements as possible into long term, meaningful opportunities in the sector. The more young people we can retain in environmental work, the more impact we will be able to create. Any organisation with a future employment opportunity for our amazing Kickstarters, or that is interested in getting involved in Race for Nature as a new employer, should get in touch with us as soon as possible via kickstart@sos-uk.org.

Change must start somewhere. We strongly believe that this programme was desperately needed. And the response from the sector, which has welcomed it with open arms, shows how united our space is on the need for progress. This is just the beginning of a vital, important shift in deepening the passion, experience, and talent which will enable our country’s most important sector to thrive.

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