BMC’s vocational programme is now open for applications. We have developed our first offering in further education around three ‘future’ skills that we believe will be important and necessary as our economy transitions to a more sustainable footing.
We have long known that our carbon intensive way of life is unsustainable and the pandemic has made that clearer than ever. It never made sense to ship perishable food halfway around the world, by aeroplane no less. The only way such a system is possible is if the costs of doing so are not ‘priced in’. Global shipping is only cheap because there is no cost to the carbon pollution it entails. Timber from the rainforest is cheaper than timber grown closer to home because the cost of the trees and the value they provide to all inhabitants on earth is not properly valued by our current financial and political systems. Moreover, the labour required to extract it is not fairly compensated and once again the cheapness of shipping is a mirage.
A circular economy is one that is focused on local production for local use, retaining more of the value and economic activity locally, for local benefit while at the same time reducing carbon footprints and breaking unsustainable supply chains. Once upon a time this was considered idealistic in a globalised world, but increasingly it is government policy. This makes sense economically and it also makes sense environmentally. As global warming bites, a carbon price will be hard to avoid and countries such as Kenya that grow food for European markets might start deciding to re-deploy their land for local production instead.
And so, we will need to adapt. There will be strong demand for new kinds of jobs in the new circular economy that is taking shape in the wake of the pandemic. In many cases there are new jobs but requiring old skills, skills that often we have nearly forgotten.
Take coppicing for example. This ancient art involves harvesting wood on rotational cycles from within the living forest without cutting it down. Many species respond well to being coppiced: oak, ash, hazel to name a few. Look for an oak tree with multiple stems sprouting from a large trunk about head height – that is a coppice ‘stool’. Some ecologists have suggested that species of trees may have evolved specifically in relationship to human management – a hazel tree left alone will die after 150 years or so, but if regularly coppiced it can survive for hundreds of, maybe even a thousand, years.
With the global surge in afforestation and widespread calls for halts to deforestation the era of cheap foreign timber is almost certainly over. That is why BMC wants to help a new generation learn this ancient skill which is suddenly back in demand.
The same is true for regenerative horticulture – a way of growing food whilst restoring soil health and promoting biodiversity. Low impact production that does not rely on fossil fuel fertilisers and toxic pesticides. Not only does locally grown fruit and vegetables make economic and environmental sense, it is better for you too! Eating it has health benefits and working outside growing food is a sure-fire route to generating a sense of well-being and purpose. This sector is already seeing rapid growth and we look forward to training people for a rewarding and sustainable career.
Locally grown food is the basis of our third NVQ diploma: seasonal catering. If we cannot rely on all year round vegetables from Africa, we need to adapt our diets and work with the seasonal cycles to eat what is available at different times of year. Our food culture is based on the natural cycles of the land: pickling and preserving in the autumn and stewing and salting in the winter. Restoring the link between food and the land and cooking and the seasons is again a positive and vital outcome for a range of reasons: doing so creates local jobs in growing and local jobs in cooking, it keeps dishes, names and festivals alive and it keeps you healthy with nutritious food rather than industrially grown food that is often lower in nutrients for having been grown in depleted soils with an excess of chemicals.
All three of our vocational NVQs will, we hope, benefit not just those people who enrol and acquire the skills and take advantage of these growing employment opportunities, but the wider communities that they serve in driving a more healthy, sustainable and equitable, a more circular, way of life.