Sustainable SA: Green Graduates on the Go


South Africa needs creative and innovative leaders to tackle complex social and environmental challenges as it makes the transition to a green economy. By promoting green careers, we unlock opportunities that benefit people and nature

South Africa’s unemployment rate is at an all-time high, around 37%. Shockingly, 68% of these unemployed are youth. This includes new graduates – some with Honours and Master’s degrees – who struggle to find decent jobs. Many employers cite a lack of foundational workplace skills as a barrier to hiring graduates fresh out of university.

In response to this growing challenge, WWF had the foresight a decade ago to invest in bridging this gap for the country’s young talent – with the environment in mind, of course. The vision was a structured and paid, environmentally focused internship programme that would fast-track young graduates into being bold, brave and well-placed future leaders.

Our future leaders
WWF’s Graduate Internship Programme helps to build the necessary green skills for a sustainable future. For example, law graduates can look for new ways to ensure environmental rights are not violated, urban planners can design cities for low-carbon transport and economists can try better value natural resources and determine the costs as well as impact of environmental neglect.

For 12 months, interns are placed with a host organisation, supported by a dedicated mentor and exposed to a range of developmental activities and networking opportunities.
This internship supports not only their transition into the job market, it also creates a significant number of new jobs in the sector. Some 37% of interns secured new jobs.

Prioritising the environment
It might seem obvious now to put the environment front and centre, but this has not always been the case. In the 1980s, environmental education was mostly on the periphery of education policy and practice. It consisted of extramural activities such as hiking and camping.

There was a catalytic surge of change across all sectors following the dawn of democracy in 1994 – including education and the environment. During the time Kader Asmal worked in Cabinet (as Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry as well as Minister of Education) in 1990s, WWF was key in supporting the appointment of his environmental education adviser. The result was the integration of environmental education into the South African school curriculum for the first time in 1998.

A decade later, by 2008, various national skills plans and strategies were urgently developed to address the green skills gap and need for transforming the sector. It was at this time that WWF made a strategic decision to support green skills development. WWF established its Environmental Leaders Programme in 2009.

The future is bright
Ten years after the start of the internship programme, more than 100 young leaders already find themselves in strategic jobs for the environment and supporting our country’s journey to sustainability.

In 2018, we are seeing the powerful returns of this initial investment into young leaders for the environment and the well-being of people. If we continue to invest in them, our country’s future will be in good hands with the next generation of decision-makers.

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