Agricultural research crucial to relieve environmental strain

The region around our base in Cambridge is known as Silicon Fen due to the area’s cluster of high-tech businesses, which focus on electronics, software and biotechnology.

However our beautiful rural location also means that a lot of pioneering research work is undertaken in the field of agriculture (excuse the pun).

Our locality is teeming with movers and shakers from the agricultural research world, from BBRO in Norwich, the UK sugar beet industry’s scientific research and technology transfer hub, to the globally-recognised expertise coming from Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research, an R&D facility owned by AHDB and operated by its Potato Council division. There are extensive crop trials happening at ADAS Boxworth along the A14, and of course around the site of Cereals – the leading event for the UK arable industry, which is taking place in the next couple of weeks at Boothby Graffoe in Lincolnshire. One of our clients has this month been working with Wicken Fen, the National Trust’s first Nature Reserve, acquired back in 1899. Today it remains one of the most important wetlands in Europe.

We have been lucky enough to see some of this impressive research and development in action, and this has undoubtedly helped our colleague Nicola to recently pass her foundation BASIS exam in agronomy.  Her course was an excellent introduction to the integrated crop protection and crop nutrition of the UK’s combinable and root crops – including crop walking in snow, sunshine and rain, a good indication to the variety of strange weather we’ve experienced so far this season.

Responsible use of pesticides was an important component of the course, which saw Nicola study alongside some of the younger faces of the farming industry who will help to shape the future of UK agriculture.

Sustainability should be at the heart of every farmer’s business. At first glance recent headlines seem to show that isn’t the case, for example the European Food Safety Organisation’s findings looking at the decline in the number of bees due to neonicotinoid pesticides, or the joint State of Nature report, compiled by 25 wildlife organisations, which assessed the population and distribution trends of  3,148 species. But if we delve deeper, to see what steps the industry is talking to safeguard against the harm done by past generations and older farming solutions, for example polluted watercourses due to high levels of slug pellet use, we can see that the UK’s agricultural research and development isn’t going to waste.

In the words of Sir David Attenborough: “This ground-breaking [State of Nature] report is a stark warning – but it is also a sign of hope.  We have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife. The experts have come together to highlight the amazing nature we have around us and to ensure that it remains here for generations to come.”

Educating Business for Women Leaders

The on-going debate about women on boards confounds the Conscious Communications team. 

Angela Merkel’s well publicised campaign to increase the number of German companies appointing women to senior posts is currently heading for a quota of 30% by 2020.  Our own Vince Cable has said he’ll look again at quotas if the target of 25% female representation on boards is not met by 2015.

Of course there should be as many women on boards as there are men but the thought that laws should be put in place to ensure that this is the case seems at odds with the net required result: successful businesses and a thriving economy. 

The central issue is one of discrimination and there is absolutely no doubt that women have been discriminated against for many reasons throughout history – employment is just one of the many arenas in which this discrimination has played out.  Extremely capable women have been blocked from rising up the ranks of male dominated companies and there have been many widely publicised cases where salaries for female employees have been unacceptably low compared with male counterparts. 

Culture and geography have also played a major role in women’s ability to achieve their potential in business.  Internationally, women account for only 11% of all board positions: Europe has the highest percentage, with Norway, Sweden and Finland at the top of the league and US lagging way behind.  This is despite the fact that up to 20% of the growth in US productivity in the past 50 years has been attributed to the inclusion of marginalised groups, including women, in the work force.

Looking at an industry close to our hearts, research has shown repeatedly that gender diverse executive teams demonstrate strong CSR performance.  But men still dominate senior CSR roles in US.  The GreenBiz 2011 salary survey found that two thirds of senior sustainability roles in large companies were held by men.

But are laws really able to impact on this discrimination?  It’s a little like legislating to stop a playground bully – the act itself will not stop, it will simply become better disguised.  No, the answer, we believe, lies not in legislation but in EDUCATION.

A recent article in the Independent cited a report showing that the average British CEO is a 53 year old male with a background in finance.  Apparently 52% of CEOs have a finance or accountancy background; only 8% have a background in marketing or advertising – no comment from Conscious Communications on this statistic!

However and wherever a woman starts on her career journey, it can’t be avoided that if she is to have a family it is likely that she will have a career break of some length. In fast moving, ever changing industries like our own, even a short career break will require her to embark on a steep learning curve to catch up when she returns.  Here, again, education is the key and Conscious Communications wonders whether investment in provision for training and CPD for women, enabling them to compete on a level playing field, would be a better use of government resources, than enforcement of legislation.  

History has taught women that they can overcome adversity if they put up enough of a fight.  There are enough great modern-day female role models to demonstrate what can be achieved.  But, we believe that all self-respecting women in business want nothing more than to know they have earned their place in the business hierarchy, not achieved it by leapfrogging capable men to the role through the exercising of legal muscle.  There’s no satisfaction or achievement in that.

Dying Commotion in our Ocean

95% of the planet’s oceans are still unexplored, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, US Department of Commerce).  That’s an extraordinary fact, especially when you consider that 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in salt water and that water contains some of the most fascinating and extraordinary forms of life we will ever encounter.  Giles Andreae’s inspired trip through the wonders of the sea with Commotion in the Ocean speaks volumes about our endless fascination with sea life (if you’re not familiar with the book and have young children, it’s a must-get!).

Not only are there beautiful things to see in these waters but the oceans also provide food and work for many millions of people – in the US over 1/3 of the Gross National Product originates from coastal areas, in the UK it is estimated that maritime activity provides employment for over 1m people.

However, the health of our oceans continues to be threatened from three sides: climate change, pollution and over-fishing and, while these are all things that humans have the ability and wherewithal to do something about, precious little has yet been done.  In March, Huffington Post reported on the latest Greenpeace campaign to raise awareness of sustainable fishing, ‘Shark vs. Mermaid Death Squad’.

In the UK (and other parts of the world) we vehemently protect our green spaces – the green belt makes up 13% of our total land area.  Yet, only 2.3% of our oceans is protected by marine reserves according to Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE).  

Human propensity for an ‘out of sight out of mind’ approach to the environment ensures the continued steady decline of these beautiful, much unknown underwater worlds.

Climate change: Ocean acidification is now a widely recognised term referring to the reduction of pH in the water caused by the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere.  When CO2 is absorbed by seawater the water becomes more acidic and causes carbonate ions, which, among other things, are the building blocks of structures such as shells and coral skeletons (a bit like calcium for bones), to be less abundant.  The ocean absorbs around 30% of CO2 that’s released into the atmosphere and, as the levels of CO2 increase with global warming, so do the levels present in the ocean.

Pollution: Statistics for pollution of our oceans continue to be shocking.  Interestingly, around 80% of global marine pollution comes from land-based sources, according to UNESCO  – mostly agricultural run-off, discharge of nutrients and pesticides and untreated sewage (including plastics).  The UN Environment Programme states that there are 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in every square mile of ocean!  This pollution has left us with around 245,000 km2 of deadzones globally (equivalent to the size of the UK’s landmass) where marine life can’t survive and ecosystems collapse. 

Over-fishing: The third ‘ocean-attacker’ is possibly the most widely known due to media interest in recent years.  TV documentaries and films such as The End of the Line, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2009, have highlighted the issues which have resulted in three quarters of the world’s fish stocks being harvested more quickly than they can reproduce.   The ocean provides a vital source of human nourishment, especially to people in the world’s poorest nations – many millions of individuals depend on fish for their primary source of protein.

But funding for marine conservation is still pitifully low when compared with other environmental concerns.  It seems the issue still remains that a huge part of the ocean belongs to no one and, unlike our green areas, is so far removed from our everyday lives (and mostly out of sight) that no one has taken responsibility for it.  But we only have one planet and if we want our children and our children’s children to have a future worth living, we need to be taking action now. 

Like other environmental and sustainability challenges, it is apparent that the collaboration between commercial partners, NGOs and governments can help to drive considerable change.  This partnership approach is now the driving principal behind organisations like BLUE, which aims to increase the area of protected marine reserves, where commercial fishing is banned, to 10% by 2020.  As a percentage, this will still be less than the protected green areas in UK for example but it is certainly a long way in the right direction and, if this can be achieved, it will clear the path for further progress.

Collaboration will be a major topic of discussion at the forthcoming Responsible Business Summit 2013, 7-8 May in London.  Speakers from Greenpeace, The Economist, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, RiiR and London Business School will kick off two days of discussion about the ability for business, NGOs and government to successfully address long term corporate responsibility and sustainability challenges post RIO +20.  The Conscious Communications team is proud to be helping Ethical Corporation promote this event, which we hope will have far reaching impact and help fuel constructive collaborations.

We have a client enjoying a well-earned break in Thailand this week, with plans to do some leisurely snorkelling.  We know he’ll enjoy some extraordinary underwater sights, which we hope as a race we can help to preserve for generations to come.

Exploitation of chuggers

Last year there was a growing body of negative feeling towards street fundraisers, ‘charity muggers’ or ‘chuggers’ as they are unaffectionately known.

 

A Local Government Association survey of councils revealed that charity fundraisers who approach shoppers had become unwelcome in three quarters of towns across the country. Complaints were recorded from the public in more than two thirds of high streets where ‘chuggers’ were said to operate.  Concerns weren’t just expressed by unwitting shoppers; they came from shopkeepers too who said that the presence of chuggers was driving down trade.

 

Street fundraisers, whose aim is to obtain bank details and signed direct debit forms, are not currently governed by the regulations that restrict the activities of collectors who rattle tins and collect cash.  So, there were calls for new legislation to control their activities.  

 

Late in 2012 there was an inquiry into the activities of street fundraisers working for a company called Tag Campaigns, which found that the company and its employees were in breach of charity law.  It was claimed that the chuggers had been making misleading claims.  The case was referred to the Charity Commission.  However, Tag is a profit-making company and not a charity and, therefore, the Commission was unable to prosecute. The regulations governing the way that face-to-face fundraisers operate on the streets are set by the Institute of Fundraising and this is meant to ensure that aggressive tactics are not used.

 

Now it seems that some councils are taking the situation into their own hands. In Shrewsbury, for example, where Pride Hill has reportedly become a particular hot-spot, the Council and police are working with the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association to set a limit on the number and frequency of fundraisers allowed to operate in the area. 

 

In Edinburgh, investment in the city centre and the launch of the Essential Edinburgh business plan has sparked a campaign to clean up the streets including discussion about the banning of chuggers as reported by STV

 

With jobs in short supply, should we be considering the chuggers themselves?  An 18 year old, known to the Conscious Communications team, was recently approached in the street and asked if he wanted a job helping to raise much needed money for a major and very worthwhile charity.  Casual work is scarce as we know and young people across the country are finding it hard to earn cash to do the things they would like.  This particular young man was saving to be able to travel for a few months and jumped at the chance to earn, without much thought for why a total stranger would offer him a job.

 

The interview process was brief and with some sales experience already under his belt, successful.  In no time he was off to Nottingham where he was to stay for four months, working 6 days a week on a commission based package, which included accommodation.

 

All went well for a few days.  He had a bedroom in a large house and shared a bathroom with the few other new recruits.  However, within the week, more people had arrived in the house and now there weren’t enough beds or bedding to go around.  The recruits were set strict financial targets and given their ‘patch’.  At the end of the second week our 18 year old hadn’t reached his target, was given two days to bring in the money and, when he couldn’t find enough willing victims on the Nottingham streets, was fired.  

 

There is so much in this sorry little tale that isn’t right.  Should the recruitment and business practices of these fundraising companies come under greater scrutiny? Maybe this would point a way forward for curtailing the exploitation of both shoppers and other vulnerable groups – the young and unemployed who are also the victims of these companies and the charities that commission them.

 

A key issue, of course, is that chugging is a very useful and lucrative fundraising tool for charities, so we imagine there must be a certain reluctance to restrict their activities.  

 

Confidence breeds confidence

Last week we were invited to join a party from the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce in travelling to London for the British Chambers of Commerce Annual Conference.  It was a privilege to be part of the group and our thanks go to John Bridge, Chief Executive of the Cambridgeshire Chambers for involving us.

The speaker line-up for the day was quite extraordinary, with Rt Hon William Hague MP and Rt Hon Ed MIlliband MP making personal appearances; the Prime Minister, not to be outshone, delivered a pre-recorded speech to the conference, in which he talked about the UK’s battle for its economic future and how the work of the BCC is “vital for winning that battle”. 

In his presentation, the Foreign Secretary talked eloquently of five areas of focus for the government in strengthening Britain: building stability; increasing UK competitiveness; boosting trade and investment; fighting for an open and fair global market; investing in international security.  His full speech can be found here.

Other speakers included Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable MP, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Rt Hon Lord Heseltine CH, Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP.

For us, the most memorable words of the day were delivered by John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce: “Hope is not a strategy”, he said.  “It is no use hoping for a Eurozone recovery any time soon, or a booming US economy in the immediate future.”

The underlying message of the conference was the need to ‘drive business confidence’, a strapline that our own Chambers in Cambridgeshire have adopted for the coming year.  John Longworth told the conference:  “Bold action must be taken now to boost confidence so that businesses can create wealth and prosperity….. Confidence is the key, confidence and an enterprise friendly environment.” 

Export was another strong theme of the conference.  William Hague illustrated the importance of the international marketplace for UK businesses with the examples of Brazil, Russia, India and China, which now account for 20 per cent of world economic output, double that of ten years ago.  The UK still lags “behind European competitors in the market share of exports to emerging markets,” he said.  “British SMEs are currently less likely to export than their European competitors.  Our ambition is to see as many as 100,000 more exporters by the year 2020.” There could certainly be no misunderstanding at the conference that the government is expecting and imploring UK SMEs to lead this international growth.

One of the most interesting discussions during the day was that between Chris Sullivan, Chief Executive, UK Corporate Banking Division, RBS Group, Samir Desai, CEO, Funding Circle and Lucy Armstrong, Chair, Capital for Enterprise.  A rather apologetic opening speech from Chris Sullivan set the scene from corporate banking and there followed a lively discussion about the growth of peer to peer lending platforms and the potential for new challenger banks to enter the market.  Regional banking featured as an important potential focus for the future.  For those of us old enough to remember how banking used to be, this news may herald a welcome return to something that delivers a little more control as well as flexibility, and the personal attention of old-fashioned bank managers who understand their customers businesses.  We can’t see any negatives in that.

The other highlight of the event was a lively delivery by the passionate Wayne Hemingway MBE, Founder, Red or Dead.  Wayne Hemingway stressed that creativity is the 2nd biggest driver of our economy and claimed that by losing control of our city centres the people have lost the ability to grow that creativity in the way that his own business started.  He went on to lambast multiple retailers for treating UK manufacturers as a soft touch and claimed that, in doing so, they were contributing to the UK slow economic recovery.

Echoing the sentiment of John Longworth’s words, he concluded that we “all need to recognise that we can do better” and that recognising the need for change is a vital first step.

Conscious Food

Deep in the midst of yet another food industry crisis one can be forgiven for wondering how, in this day and age, this can happen.  For those of us who remember the salmonella crisis or BSE and the devastating impact they had on the farming and food industries, it is extraordinary to think that, with so much emphasis on traceability and provenance, we can still find ingredients in our food that shouldn’t be there.  Never mind the fact that in the UK we may find eating horses repugnant, it’s the fact that we have no idea really where those horses came from and what state they were in when they went into our food that’s most alarming.  One thing we can guarantee is that they weren’t caringly fattened steeds from a conventional farm!

Being very familiar with the work of World Horse Welfare, the charity dedicated to protecting and promoting the welfare of horses around the world, the Conscious Communications’ team is well aware of the issues relating to the European horsemeat industry and the long-distance transportation of horses across Europe for slaughter.  If you’re not aware of what goes on, it’s worth reading some of the information for the charity’s website.   Thousands of horses and donkeys face a miserable prolonged demise at the hands of unscrupulous traders every year and many of them are diseased and unfit to travel, let alone eat.

It beggars belief that our government can reassure consumers that there is no risk to human health in eating meat from horses that have come from unknown sources.  How can they make such a claim when charities like World Horse Welfare have been presenting them with evidence of the scandal for so many years?   The shame is that, being a seemingly non-UK issue, the UK media has paid little attention over the years so the plight of these horses has gone unnoticed on our shores, with the exception of a few articles in Horse and Hound.

So, what next?  The people who engage in animal cruelty and illegal trafficking on this scale are not about to simply say ‘sorry’ and stop doing it.  The companies that process the meat may be prosecuted and stop using their suppliers but the trade will not cease, it will simply go further underground.  These are people who think nothing of driving horses and donkeys, already half dead with disease and fatigue (and probably full of the banned drug bute) for thousands of miles, with no food, water or rest, until they meet their grizzly end. 

The biggest issue in this whole sorry tale is that of trust.  Trust is such an important commodity, whether your customers are consumers or other businesses.  People like to do business with and buy from people, organisations and brands they trust and if the trust continues un-abused then businesses flourish, whether they’re selling lasagne or holidays. 

As a small business built with trust and integrity at our core, we know the value of trusting business relationships.  When trust breaks down, as in any relationship, there can be massive fall-out and the damage to businesses involved in the horsemeat scandal is currently immeasurable.   We are sure many will not survive but all involved are equally to blame for inadequately policing their supply chains when their customers had placed trust in their integrity.  For this there is no excuse.

We would like to think that one positive consequence of the horsemeat fiasco may be a resurgence in the ‘back to basics’ movement.  Some of our most delicious and nutritious foods are, after all, those which are cooked from scratch and eaten in season, with a sprinkling of fresh herbs from the kitchen garden.  There are no hidden, salts, sugars, fats, colours, flavours or DNA in the things nature provides for us.  We may even find another net positive effect in this – a reduction in obesity, CHD, diabetes and any number of other diseases that drain the life out of people and resources from our NHS.

So, while the environment secretary meets again with the food processors, retailers, FSA and others, in an attempt to get to the bottom of this mess, it would be good to think that our rather romantic notion of people turning their backs on ready meals and stocking up on good old fashioned potatoes, cabbage and apples instead, may become a reality.  After all meat and two veg is exactly what it says it is, nothing more or less, and there’s an inherent reassurance in recognising what animal you’re eating because you bought it from the farm shop or trusted butcher in your high street.

Confidence breeds prosperity

This week Conscious Communications grew by 33.3%, not a huge achievement considering the team now numbers only four but for us it is a sign that there is a real market for what we do and that people genuinely like the way we do it.  We believe it is also a sign that, with enough drive and passion, businesses can fight tough economic conditions and thrive.

It became apparent to us this month that there are indeed many businesses, both large and small, across our region (and across the country) that are continuing to develop and grow.   In ghost writing a Special Report for Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce’s Connected magazine we were privileged to speak with business and education leaders from Chamber member organisations and, from all of them, we heard that innovation, diversification, flexibility, partnership working and a can-do attitude are the keys to success. 

Even in the toughest of industry sectors which, in recent years with the impact of climate change so apparent, has to be agriculture, businesses like Produce World show huge strength of character in their management teams.  Talking with William Burgess about events of the past year, the value of continuous innovation and research and development in helping to maintain this oldest of industries is clear.  But, while Produce World has and is surviving and still building, others have and are not, and it seems to us that the strength of individual characters within their driving team and the confidence in their ability to not only weather the storm but to beat it hands down is key.

Another family business that’s also facing 2013 with the optimism and determination now synonymous with its 100 year history,history is one of our favourite clients, Ridgeons Timber and Builders Merchants.  This week they opened their new Green Light Centre of Excellence and Training Academy, with two days of customer and VIP events, in partnership with their training partners Cambridge Regional College, NICIEC and Easy MCS.  This is a great example of how partnerships between organisations are working to help companies diversify and offer new and much needed products and services.  The initiative is an important one for the construction industry in our region and will help businesses take advantage of opportunities that the move towards sustainability offers and, importantly, is a diversification for Ridgeons which adds yet another valuable string to their bow.  The Rt Hon Greg Barker Minister of State for Climate Change even tipped up on Wednesday to look around and congratulate Ridgeons on their achievements with the Centre. 

Major players in the regional construction industry, including Kier Eastern also attended the event  and, talking with managing director, Graham Howe, it’s apparent that Kier too is feeling cautiously optimistic about the year to come, particularly in the Eastern region where there are clear ‘pockets’ of opportunity.

Graham believes that ‘doom and gloom only spreads more of the same’, while a ‘positive attitude to business and innovation has proved to help breed confidence across companies, customers and the whole economy’.   This is an absolute truism we are sure and we also believe, wholeheartedly, that ensuring you have only positive, proactive people in your organisation is another key to success.  This is why we’re so delighted to have Nicola Collenette, ex-drinks industry journalist, as our newest team member.

So, onwards and upwards and here’s to a prosperous 2013.

#educationforfuture

January, and those of us with teenage children know that we’re already into exam season.  In fact, exam season seems to be perpetual these days.  But, from next year, January and February will be a little quieter for the examining bodies, when the opportunity for 17 and 18 year olds to retake A Level modules will no longer exist.  Yes, it’s all change again for UK education.

At Conscious Communications we’re privileged to work with one of the best private schools in the country and through our work have developed an understanding of the issues and politics involved in the national education agenda.  We have also been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to discuss pressing education issues with teachers, academics and business leaders, most recently in a series of podcasts with education thought leaders as a preview to a national education conference we are organising in Cambridge next month.

Teachers are not at all shy  of voicing their opinions and indeed, they are some of the most prolific Tweeters, using the social media platform to stage lively discussions and debates at all times of day and night.  There are even several public Twitter forums which take place each week at set times, where teachers and educationalists get together, using hash tags such as #sltchat or #ukedchat, to discuss pre-agreed themes and questions, often resulting in heated voicing of opinions.

The major issues currently are those relating to the review of the National Curriculum and the government’s consultation on the future for assessment in the UK.  Teachers, seemingly universally, believe that the current system is letting children and schools down.  They are brimming with ideas for how an effective system could and should be structured and yet their frustration that the educated and informed opinions of teachers are going unheeded by the decision makers, are widely voiced. 

Something that appears to have been missed by the decision makers in their reform of the system is exploration of the fundamental question of what is the purpose of education and learning for today and tomorrow.  Not, what has the purpose of education been in the past – it is surely ridiculous that in the fast moving, digital and increasingly ‘global’ world and workplace, there is talk of a return to basics. 

Ask teachers what the purpose of learning is and, we believe, you’ll receive a range of responses which mostly focus on giving students critical and inquisitive thinking skills and equipping them to achieve ‘fulfilling’ and socially aware futures.  Many teachers we have spoken to talk about the IB learner profile and its relevance for young people entering the adult world today.  IB says that its programme is designed to ‘develop internationally minded people who, recognising their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world’.  The words IB uses to describe the type of qualities they work to instil in students are: ‘inquirers’, ‘knowledgeable’, ‘thinkers’, ‘communicators’, ‘principled’, ‘open-minded’, ‘caring’, ‘risk-takers’, ‘balanced’, ‘reflective’.  Sounds about right for the world they will face!

Educating human capital for the preservation of natural capital

Awareness of the value of natural capital is increasingly important in the commercial world, where efficiencies and effective use of resources are under scrutiny. 

The concept of ‘natural capital’ has a long history but it is only in recent years that it has carried a real weight of importance.  As early as 1937 Roosevelt referenced an article which talked about ‘balancing the budget of our resources’, a very clear reference to what we know as natural capital today.

In its true sense, natural capital refers to the natural assets we utilise for economic production.  There are three main categories of this: natural resource stocks, land and ecosystems, all of which are essential, not only to the long-term sustainability of economic development but also, of course, to the sustainability of all forms of life as we know them, including ourselves.

It is encouraging to know that so many groups and organisations now exist to examine the issues relating to the depletion of natural resources and the preservation of natural capital.  The Natural Capital Initiative (NCI) is one such forum, involving scientists, policy-makers and industry in discussing how to support the development of science, policy and practice, in-line with an ‘ecosystem approach’ to decision making, where natural good and services are valued.  The NCI has established a schedule of events and publications which aim to communicate its findings but how does all of this worthwhile discussion really translate into action?

Defra’s own Natural Capital Committee evolved from the Natural Environment White Paper, ‘The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature’, published in June 2011.  It is designed to ‘ensure that government has a better informed understanding of the value of Natural Capital, and will help it to prioritise actions to support and improve the UK’s natural assets’.   With the government’s Sustainable Development Indicators (SDIs) already in place, we’re not sure what else the Committee will contribute that isn’t already known on a macro scale?  We hope it will be more than just further discussion and debate. 

One good thing, however, to come from the Committee is the establishment of Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs), of which there are now 48 across the country.  Our understanding is that these will focus on three priorities: sustainable land use and management; green economic growth; quality of life and local health and wellbeing.  We are pleased to see that Greater Cambridgeshire is listed among the 48 and are looking to see how our team might contribute to its efforts in the coming months.

For our own business and all others in the service sector, the key to success is our people and, although technically classified as human capital, not natural capital, there is clearly much cross-over. The role of human capital in economic development, productivity growth and innovation must not be underestimated either, nor must the role of human capital in the future preservation of our natural capital.  Education is, therefore, surely at the very heart of the issue and the development of a national education system that builds knowledge and life skills in young people, which are relevant to the future of our global digital economy, is essential – here-in lies another topic close to our hearts with the work we are involved in with the Stephen Perse Foundation

What’s your ‘calling’?

Through our work in education we are often drawn into discussions about careers and the future of assessment in UK schools.  Following one such discussion the question of terminology arose and plunged us into thought about the expectations of young people and how, over the generations, the descriptors we use for education and qualifications have changed with these expectations.

For those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s, a vocation is something that a person feels a particular ‘calling’ to pursue and, in the process of doing so, may be lucky enough to make a living for themselves.  The dictionary confirms this with: ‘a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action, especially a divine call to the religious life’ and explains that the word originates from the Middle English vocacioun, Anglo-French vocaciun and Latin vocation.

For us then, a vocation is distinct from a career by the addition of the ‘calling’ bit.  Without this we are left with only the element that makes a living.  Having said this, we all know many people who have had and are having long and successful careers which they have grown to enjoy and sometimes even love.  However, they weren’t necessarily ‘love at first sight’ so, by our definition, they are careers and not vocations.

With this in mind, what surprises us is the modern use of the word ‘vocational’ to broadly describe less academic professional paths.  Today the term ‘vocational’ seems to be used to categorise job choices that would have previously been simply called ‘the trades’ – construction, accountancy, mechanics, and so on.   In days gone by you were either in the ‘professions’ or in the ‘trades’, it was pretty black and white.  But in the same way that so many other boundaries have become blurred and broken, the meaning of these words has changed.  

The dictionary definition of ‘vocational’ is ‘pertaining to or instruction/guidance in a ‘vocation’.  So the question is, when and how did a trade become a vocation?  For some people we’re certain a trade really is a vocation but all trades surely can’t be generally grouped in this way.

The history of vocational education dates back to the vision for technical schools contained in the Butler 1944 Education Act.  Through the 60s, 70s and 80s the availability of technical courses and apprenticeships grew and organisations like the City & Guilds were established.  From what we can find, the word ‘vocational’ first appeared officially in the mix with the announcement of the Technical & Vocational Employment Initiative in 1982 and from this stemmed what we recognise as NVQs and so on. 

So what else was happening in education during this period?  Margaret Thatcher was rewarding schools for academic performance with extra funding; corporal punishment was banned in state schools; low pay and the stress of the national curriculum was fuelling low morale and teacher strikes.  There are clearly many complexities to the evolution of education and the language we use to describe elements of that mix but we wonder if there is any correlation between the modern use of the word ‘vocational’, as a glamorisation of the traditional ‘trades’, and the 30 years of reform and restructure we have seen through various governments which continues today?

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