Insights About Youth Involvement In The Green Economy – Interview with Jamie

There is no doubt that we are grappling with the impacts of climate change and the transition towards sustainability and in South Africa this ties in with pre-existing problems such as inequality, poverty and unemployment. 

We recently had a conversation with Jamie Conrad, Operations Manager at Conrad Advisory, whose leadership skills and passion for sustainability drive impactful initiatives and foster positive change. He is a voice echoing the concerns and hopes of the nation’s youth, sharing thought-provoking insights into the challenges and opportunities of involving young people in the green economy. Read all about it below.

Jamie’s observations paint a picture of our country trailing behind global efforts towards sustainability. Despite the increase in solar power installations, because of practical reasons such as load shedding, the overall efforts to promote sustainability amongst South Africans is not very strong. This reality raises critical questions about awareness and prioritization of environmental issues. 

Jamie also highlights a powerful reminder:  Young people today have an important job ahead of them because they have to fix environmental problems that previous generations have caused. It’s not just a duty but really important for young people to start doing things now to make the world cleaner and better for the future.

Jamie talks a lot about sustainability, focusing on how important it is for people to really care and put effort into it. He says it’s not just about money, but also about spending time and using skills to make green projects work well in the long run. This idea makes us think differently about sustainability, highlighting the need for ongoing commitment instead of quick fixes.

Jamie notices that there are big challenges in getting young people involved in jobs related to helping the environment. Things like not having enough money and not getting chances to join in can stop them from getting involved. Jamie advocates for a dual approach: addressing immediate needs for financial stability while simultaneously providing access to education and resources.

Jamie brings up an important worry about whether young people working in green jobs will actually get to enjoy the rewards of their hard work. He compares it to factory workers who might not be able to buy the things they help make. This calls for a concerted effort to ensure economic empowerment and meaningful employment for youth in the green economy.

Jamie’s vision extends beyond the individual to the collective power of social movements. By highlighting the social justice implications of climate change, particularly its disproportionate impact on marginalized communities, he advocates for a holistic approach – understanding these intersections is key to inspiring greater youth involvement in the green economy.

In Jamie’s words, the journey towards a greener South Africa is rife with challenges, but also brimming with opportunities. It’s a call to action for individuals, businesses, and policymakers alike to empower the nation’s youth, not just as beneficiaries, but as architects of a sustainable future. Together, we can turn the tide towards a brighter, greener tomorrow.

Here are his insights in depth: 

Q: What is your view on the  importance of involving young people in the green economy?

In South Africa it has always seemed to me that we are behind the rest of the world in terms of our efforts to move towards a more climate friendly state. We only have a handful of electric vehicles on offer and the infrastructure that is in place pales in comparison to the western world. The uptake of residential solar has been a reaction to the increase in load shedding and isn’t necessarily motivated by a green agenda. The issue in South Africa is that there are so many other issues facing us that trying to ensure that we have adequate participation in the green economy is not amongst our top priorities. Only slowly and amongst the wealthier in the country are we seeing any real efforts to make our country greener. Unfortunately, we as the youth are plagued by the sins of our fathers. We are destined to live and die from the consequences of their actions if we do not take action. This is why it is so important for the youth to be involved in leading initiatives that move the country to become greener, for we should want to leave the world a better place than the one we were left with.

Q: Can you share some of your experiences and lessons learned in your journey related to sustainability and environmental initiatives? 

The key to instituting sustainability and environmental initiatives is getting the right kind of investment. I am not talking about financial investment in this case but rather the investment of people’s time and expertise in the overall process, understanding that we are looking at delayed gratification compared to immediate satisfaction. It is this buy in/investment that is required from youth in South Africa to really make these initiatives take hold. Whilst Solar PV installers have been around for many years, we are seeing a huge number of new companies entering the space and exiting as fast as they entered. All those who saw the increase in loadshedding as an opportunity to make a quick buck had the same mentality as those who took advantage of the gaps during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of those businesses have since had to pivot to remain operational or had to completely close their doors. In my experience, this proves that the solution is to have the right type of buy-in/investment from people who really want to see these initiatives through.

Q: What are some of the barriers or challenges you’ve observed,that hinder youth participation?

Societal barriers – Many of our youth today are still living from pay check to pay check. They may recognise the need for youth participation in the green economy, however that need does not meet their immediate needs to survive. One of the big issues in South Africa facing many who live in townships or rural areas, is access. How do these people access these opportunities if they are far away? What if the youth have to take multiple taxis and buses amongst other public transport to get to the opportunity? What we have found is that a dual approach is needed. We need to address their immediate needs to enable them to take on the opportunities that exist, e.g. through stipends etc. and then secondly, to get them to become invested in the process, e.g. through education etc.

Are the youth that are being employed going to benefit from the products that they are paid to work on? I believe we are at a turning point, this can be shown by looking at the factory workers, working on high end vehicles. It is highly unlikely that their earnings will enable them to own what they are essentially producing. The Youth in South Africa are faced with the same dilemma to a certain extent. Will the youth who we are employing into this industry be the likely beneficiaries of their own work, i.e. would an installer be able to afford a 3KW PV system? The answer is that it is highly unlikely. This therefore presents a higher barrier to entry for youth into investing in sustainable and green technology for their own benefit. Thus the turning point that we are at is going to be defined by the ability of businesses in the green economy to not only provide employment for the youth, but rather employment that is worthwhile.

Q: Any visionary ideas or future trends you foresee in the green economy that could inspire young individuals to get more involved?

What seems to work really well in getting the youth of South Africa going is using social movements to motivate a change. We need to accentuate the negative effects of climate change in ways that affect one another in terms of social justice. For example, we can look at how the change in weather patterns is leading to harsher weather, leading to flooding further perpetuating the inequalities between the lives of the better off vs. the lives of the poor. It is important to look at the intersectionality of people in South Africa and how likely climate change will disproportionately effect the poor. Only when understanding this, can we come up with adequate solutions to having greater involvement in the green economy

Q: What advice would you give to young people who want to invest their time and expertise in sustainability but are concerned about the uncertainties and risks associated with these initiatives?

The unfortunate thing about the lack of certainty is how much commitment one can give; and what is needed right now is unwavering commitment. Perhaps the question should be around the long term sustainability of whatever action is taken right now. The time and effort put in now should be seen as an investment that will pay out dividends in the future. I believe that there will be a lot more security and certainty in the future should we put in the effort now. Perhaps the solution is to find something that one is passionate about and have it pivot to be more environmentally focussed, and as the saying goes: ” Find a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”