1 Jul

Sustainability Peer Network: Manufacturing the Skillset of the Next Generation

On the week of the hottest day of the year (so far) in the UK, we opened our factory for the second part of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s (WYCA) Sustainability Peer Network event. Tens of representatives from local SMEs gathered to hear from Lisa Lister about the opportunities on offer to businesses in the region. The session’s focus was on how manufacturing business leaders can ensure their workforce has the necessary skills and training to work towards their sustainability targets.

We want you to leave today’s session with more knowledge than when you came. And we want you to be able to go back to your business, to your office, with the knowledge you need to make practical changes.
Lisa Lister

Sustainable Manufacturing: Setting the Scene

After our host had set the scene for this Sustainability Peer Network’s discussion points, she welcomed Heather Nicholson and Chris Mitchell from the WYCA’s Green Skills team to our mezzanine floor. Sharing an abundance of information about the range of training opportunities available to businesses in West Yorkshire, there was particular interest in apprenticeships. Namely, the six new ‘green’ apprenticeships developed to equip the next generation with the sustainable skills and mindset they need for businesses to continue to thrive. Not to mention make those all-important process improvements to reduce the carbon footprint of their operations.

Lisa explained the point of the session was ‘to work with businesses to increase workforce support for the future’. Heather followed this with the statistic we wonder if you’re already privy to – that West Yorkshire has the potential to create over 70k ‘good, new high-skilled’ jobs in the green economy by 2050. Now that’s a figure worth celebrating and getting behind!


WYCA’s Green Jobs Taskforce

Attendees were then reminded about West Yorkshire’s Green Jobs Taskforce launched by the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, in January 2022. Last year, the Taskforce published a ‘Recommendations Report’ – it identifies the actions our region can take to deliver skills and jobs needed to transition to a net zero carbon economy, as well as creating 1,000 well-paid, green skilled jobs for young people.

Heather spoke through some of the core messages of the report, including the need to inspire young people to consider these types of careers. One of the ways our region’s already acting on this is with WYCA’s ‘Go Green’ resources where young people can freely access careers information.


Green Jobs Training Available in West Yorkshire

Next, Heather talked us through the more localised green training available within the region, going into the details of what’s involved and who they appeal to. She also shared lots of details about the apprenticeships manufacturers could be taking advantage of, like:

  • Sustainability business specialist (level 7 apprenticeship, equivalent to a Master’s degree)
  • Corporate responsibility and sustainability practitioner (level 4 apprenticeship)


Lifting the Lid on Access to Training

It was then time for the first of many discussions with our attendees who were sat listening to the WYCA specialists in 28C heat! Lisa asked: ‘Hypothetically, if you were told you could have some fully funded sustainability training right now, what would you ask for?’ Responses ranged from using it to increase people’s awareness of sustainability to supplying training at a team leader level. 

Following this, Lisa wanted to find out what the Sustainability Peer Network’s audience of business owners and leaders are currently struggling with in terms of green skills. One of the answers included ‘certain commercial demands we need to fulfil to win a tender (which we don’t have yet) – e.g.an ISO accreditation’. Our own MD, Louise O’Brien, then shared how we’ve managed to overcome this barrier at Greyhound Box.

Whenever we achieve a new certification or we set out working towards a new accreditation, we run training for our whole team internally. Whoever is leading on the project relays what they’ve learned to the rest of our team so that everyone is aware of what we’re working towards or what we’ve achieved.

Louise O’Brien

Another audience challenge was around knowing if a completely new role needs creating to take more responsibility for the sustainability side of things, or if this can be absorbed by others within the business. (But the point remains that person or those people need the relevant training!) Lisa responded by saying:

“You guys know your businesses better than anyone. A role itself may not be an actual ‘green’ role, but it might still be contributing to lowering your carbon footprint – i.e. tweaking an operation to be more efficient. But we need to put people on courses to train them on these ideas.”


Sustainability Peer Network: The Bigger Picture

With our brains buzzing around the funding opportunities readily available, Chris took to the floor to talk about another key aspect of education and training around green practice in manufacturing. He focussed on the need for us all to look at the bigger pictures of our supply chains – unless we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet, it’s going to be a while before we really start to see and feel the effects of positive changes trickling along our value chains.

Chris’s points raised a discussion between Louise and Lisa on the importance of educating staff on the reasons behind the drive towards environmentally friendlier practices.

Louise: “You’ve got to prioritise how you spend your money. The first part is about changing your mindset as a business. I always say you should start with the small things and build up. We’ve also found using the ISO framework as a basis for our training and procedures beneficial.

If you do all this [tendering and sustainability training], then what are you rewarded with? Is everyone in your business committed to it? Are they educated to a higher level than before? They’re the types of benefits we’ve seen [when it comes to upskilling staff around sustainable practice].”

Education has got to come from the top – it needs to be embedded first and then filtered down. You need to talk about it when recruiting, too, and make sure people are interested in these elements during their interviews and appraisals.

Lisa Lister

Louise: “You need to live by it [sustainability] and show people you are committed to it.”

Lisa: “Sustainability strategies are about setting your intentions and working to them, not just getting there straightaway.”


Common Barriers to Implementing ‘Green’ Training

Conversation then turned to the barriers the audience face when it comes to implementing more training or incorporating new roles around sustainability. One attendee told us ‘schoolchildren see GreenTech as ‘dirty’ and associate it with manual labour, whereas we see it as innovative. Young people have this perception because they just think of manual roles or waste management – they’re not seeing the bigger picture’.

And that’s exactly why it’s so important for green practice and sustainability to be talked about from the get-go in the classroom to secure the manufacturers of tomorrow!


Sustainability Support for Manufacturing Businesses

As the session neared its end, Lisa was keen to remind attendees of the range of free support and advice on offer from the WYCA. From having a dedicated Growth Manager to a Business Sustainability Manager, there’s a range of help ready and waiting for businesses to tap into.

I wouldn’t do anything without going through WYCA first. I never make a business decision before speaking to them – it’s not just about getting funding, but the advice, too.

Louise O’Brien


Closing Thoughts of the Sustainability Peer Network

There was a final chance for our audience to reflect on what had been discussed during the afternoon session, and we’ve pulled some of the stand-out points and thoughts for you to ponder below:

  • ‘One of our challenges it the people in our team who are equipped to make these sustainable changes are of the mindset of ‘why?’ because they’ll be retired by the time they come to fruition.’
  • ‘Education needs shaping up from scratch when it comes to sustainable practices and training. We’re looking for green skills – but who do we employ? Who has the skills to do so?’
  • ‘There’s an environmental improvement to every operational change you make. It’s firstly about embedding them into your processes, then making the message really relatable and understandable [to get buy in from employees].’

Yet for every barrier shared, there was a piece of advice:

  • ‘Start by getting some sustainability volunteers, people who are genuinely interested in it, and then get them some training!’
  • ‘It’s a people project as much as it is a sustainability project!’


We’d like to say another huge thank you to Lisa and the WYCA for spending the afternoon at Greyhound Box to share this invaluable insight with our West Yorkshire manufacturing peers. 

The Sustainability Peer Network is taking a short break over the summer, with our next session taking place on Monday 9th September. Keep your eyes peeled for more information soon!

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