Future You podcast transcript

How to make a difference: becoming a sustainability specialist apprentice | with Cranfield University

January, 2024

Whether you're a sustainability professional or sustainability is becoming an increasingly important aspect of your role, the Sustainability Business Specialist Apprenticeship equips you with the skills needed to make a real impact


In order of first appearance:

  • Emily Slade - podcast producer and host, Prospects
  • Dr Rosina Watson - associate professor of Sustainability at Cranfield School of Management


Emily Slade: Hello and welcome to Future You the podcast from graduate careers experts, Prospects. I'm your host Emily Slade. And in this episode we look at an exciting part-time course from the Cranfield School of Management. Whether you're a sustainability professional, and employee new to their sustainability role, or someone for whom sustainability is becoming an increasingly important aspect in your business, this course equips you with the skills needed to make a real impact.

Dr. Rosina Watson: My name is Dr. Rosina Watson. I'm an associate professor of sustainability at Cranfield School of Management. And I'm also the co course director of the MSc in Sustainability. I did my PhD at Cranfield in 2013. So I moved into academia, halfway through my career, I spent about 15 years working primarily in the retail sector, in finance, commercial and strategy roles, before becoming the first head of corporate sustainability for Argos and Homebase in 2009. That role was what really switched me on to the potential to do business in a better way, and to make business a force for good in the world, and inspire me to actually want to teach others about that. So that's what drove my move into academia. And this course, has kind of been the culmination of what I wanted to achieve through a move into being an educator, because the course is all about helping to equip and upskill sustainability professionals, sustainability leaders or aspiring sustainability leaders. And to do that in a way that they can take on their learning while they're working. So when I was first head of corporate sustainability, I was chosen because I knew the business really well. But I didn't really know all that much about all the environmental and social issues, and how to tackle them how to measure them. So I had to very much learn on the job from talking to other sustainability professionals. And I think this course fills a huge gap for the increasing number of people within organisations who are being given responsibility for sustainability outcomes, sustainability strategies, that often haven't necessarily got all the learning that they need to equip them to do that with, with confidence. So that's where this course comes in.

Emily Slade: We are hearing more often these days about courses surrounding sustainability, why has this one been developed?

Dr Rosina Watson: So the impetus for its development was actually the government developing a new apprenticeship standard and level seven apprenticeship standards. So level seven has a Masters level called Sustainability business specialists. The government have obviously got a sort of agenda around developing green skills in the UK and the apprenticeship scheme is a way to offer funding to employers who want to invest in their ongoing education of their employees. So this apprenticeship standard came about, I think it was May 2020, and myself and a colleague in Cranfield, from another school. So I'm in the School of Management, my colleague is from the School of Water Energy Environment, which looks at the more technical and scientific side of the environment and sustainability. We saw this apprenticeship standard, and felt that Cranfield was extremely well placed to develop a course that responded to that standard. Because in the School of Management we have teaching and research around sustainability in the context of business. And in Kenisha Garnett school, the School of Water, energy and environment, then they're very much focused on the technologies, the innovation that are needed to drive sustainability. So we felt that putting those two skill sets together, we could develop a program which complied with this apprenticeship standard, which means that employers can send people on the course with very heavily subsidised from the Apprenticeship Levy, but at the same time, we're equipping the candidates that come on the course with that really essential blend of knowing how to lead for sustainability from a management and people perspective, but also from a technical and scientific perspective. I think that's what we've achieved. So we're now recruiting for our fourth intake of this program. So we've got about 110 people on the program so far across three cohorts, and we have a new cohort starting in March. The program's attracting such a huge diversity of people all brought together by their shared passion for this topic and a real desire to make an impact through their organisations into the world recognising the urgency of the environmental and social problems that we're facing. So we have representation from all sectors really in the UK, so All the way from service businesses, legal finance organisations all the way through to really heavy manufacturing. There's people there that make submarines, for example, and people from the food sector people, people from the FMCG sector, so fast moving consumer goods. So all types of sectors represented, some people on the course, are very senior. So we've got directors of sustainability, chief sustainability officers all the way through to people who are sustainability apprentices. So they're just sort of beginning their sustainability career, and people come from very different places. So some people come from a more engineering background. So they want to learn more how to drive influence, organisationally, some people come from a more general management strategic background, and they want to deepen their, their sort of specific technical knowledge around sustainability. So the great thing is that everybody brings something to the equation. So it doesn't matter if you've got two years experience or 40 years experience, because everyone's experience is different. And the spirit of an apprenticeship is very much that you learn theories and frameworks, but then you apply them in your workplace. So every student has got something to bring, and they also have something to offer in terms of then sharing back what they've done with their learning from from each module that they study. So as well as having offering potential for, you know, connecting with lots of different world renowned academics during the course. So each of the 14 taught modules is led by a different academic with a different specialty, a different area of expertise. The students, learners actually, we call them learners, students makes them sound too young. Learners are all all driving really huge value from learning from each other and discussing shared problems. So a way in which we try and encourage that is, learners are divided into two learning groups, which they do activities in, some of their module assessments, are group based assessments and those groups, one set of groups is deliberately constructed. So there as diverse as possible, so from different industry sectors, different genders, different length of experience. And then they have a second set of groups, which is more industry sector groups. So sometimes they'll do something with the other food sector people altogether, if they're if they're really trying to focus in on, you know, sustainability challenges in a particular sector. So that brings lots of opportunities for career learning, as well as you know, the formal academic learning. And at the end, I mean, as I said, a lot, each of the 14 modules is assessed, and about 70% of the assessments are applied to the workplace. So for example, in the module that I lead, which is leading sustainable business, we learn all about how to develop a sustainability strategy, how to implement that, including through innovation. And their assessment, then is to design and write a proposal for sustainability oriented innovation in their company, so that they're writing a proposal using the tools that they've learned in the module about a particular project or initiative that they would like to propose to their board or their executive team to take forward in their own organisation. So I kind of mark that from an academic perspective, and then many of them will take that project forward into reality. So the students kind of comment that the fact that they're, they have to dedicate the time to writing an assessment, but that is a very practical and applied assessment means they can then use that piece of work to actually drive change in their business very quickly, after doing that piece of learning.

Emily Slade: Yeah, absolutely. Well, that's, that's fantastic.

Dr Rosina Watson: Then the last thing is at the end of their talk program. So it's a two and a half year course, you have two years of this kind of learning by by attending our talk module and then doing assessment. And then at the end, the six months where each learner chooses a particular work based project that they want to tackle. So it's like a thesis, but it's applied to their workplace. So that's like a bigger, a bigger scale project that they can use, they can tackle, to fulfill that applied thesis, they're supervised by a academic supervisor, but it's obviously a very collaborative exercise between themselves, their employer, and their academic supervisor, what they choose for that project, and then how they tackle it out.

Emily Slade: Out of curiosity, is it individuals that are applying for this course off their own back?

Dr Rosina Watson: That's a really good question, Emily, it's it's a mixture. It's a mixture, but I'd say probably slightly tilted towards the candidate and then they're bringing their company along. But the the great thing is one when you know, when when some one candidate has been on the course from a particular company, particularly some of the companies that are represented a small company, so they're never going to have like five sustainability professionals. They're only going to have one but some of the bigger companies have sent one person it's kind of like a trailblazer, with the view to have others follow but then a couple of other companies have taken a more strategic approach to it. So BA Systems for example, they've sent eight students on the first two cohorts on each of the first two cohorts. So the way they are trying to create their sustainability team in the future and specifically recruited people from different areas of the business. So they put out a call saying we're offering this apprenticeship, please apply if you're interested. And I've deliberately sort of built up this cohort who are learning together, and they will together sort of lead the agenda within BA Systems going forward. So there's so both both approaches. Yeah.

Emily Slade: And what about studying how can it be studied? Can they continue working? Or do they have to sort of take the time off to complete the course?

Dr Rosina Watson: Everyone's working, so you study one day a week, basically. So this, this course is an apprenticeship. And that's what makes it eligible for Apprenticeship Levy funding, but you can also go on it as a non apprentice. So if for some reason your company doesn't want to do it through the Apprenticeship Levy or you are self employed, you can still come on the course. But it does mean that you have to pay the full cost of the course rather than it being subsidised by the Apprenticeship Levy. So people are on it from both routes, but regardless of what route they're on, they study in the same way, which is you take, you take every Friday off for studying and live online teaching is every other Friday, so we teach remotely, so people don't have to travel. And that's for two reasons. One is to reduce carbon footprint of people traveling. And the second is to make the course as accessible as possible. So lots of people who've applied for the course have commented that they'd been looking for something to say they wanted to study this for a long time, but haven't been able to fit it in with their work caring family juggling. And so this, I described this as a kind of little and often way of studying. So other other sort of apprenticeships or other sort of executive learning typically would involve coming to Cranfield for three days, maybe every month or so which and oftentimes it's on a weekend, which is obviously very difficult to fit in. So we designed this so that it's it's less than often and it's remote, and the online teaching is live online. So you don't really don't look at recordings, you're not sat there on your own. You're sat there with your cohort of 40 to 50 people with your academics module lead and also with a co presenter, who who helps make sure that the student voice is represented the whole time so you'll never have your hand up and have the academic ignore you because the co presenter is very much, "excuse me, someone's got a question here" and it's delivered from our Cranfield broadcast and record Studios, which are like a proper professional BBC studios, we've got a news desk, we've got a sofa studio. So it's very high quality production values and very interactive. So we use lots of interactive tools like Miro, where you have interactive whiteboards, we have we use breakout rooms, we very much get the students to engage with what they're learning and apply it and feedback. So it's very, it's very much online live online study. But that's complemented then with an annual physical residential at Cranfield, so the beginning of every year, so each each cohort will have three of those. You spend three days on campus, staying over, meeting your colleagues, your fellow students, meeting academics and doing activities that work better face to face. So we have a personal leadership module which we deliver face to face, because it's quite personal. It's much better to do that, you know, in real life, we do an innovation tour of Cranfield and look at things like hydrogen production, solar panel installations, actually on campus. So taking advantage of be able to see that in real life, we do something called the exploring sustainable futures game, which is a sort of half day interactive roleplay game, which again, works much better in person. So we really do make the most of those annual trips. So currently, we have a big three course dinner, where everyone gets together to eat vegetarian food and have a few drinks if they fancy it. So that's the only way to study there isn't options. That's it. It's live. It's live online, every other Friday self paced study in the in between weeks, and then the annual residency.

Emily Slade: It does sound brilliant. It sounds like a really good way to do it.

Dr Rosina Watson: I think it works well, yeah.

Emily Slade: So what is the thing that excites you most about the apprenticeship?

Dr Rosina Watson: That it drives real impact very quickly. I just love seeing students so every year at the residential, we get this students who are just going into their second year we some we are I asked for volunteers for students to share their stories of what they've achieved with their learning over the first year. And that's literally my highlight because people stand up there and say they had slight imposter syndrome, you know, I was given more and more responsibility for this stuff. I didn't feel like I necessarily had the foundation, you know, enough of the foundations of learning to really confidently tackle all these things. And now I feel I do I feel supported. I've got this great network of peers who I can go to if I've got a problem. I've got all these tools and frameworks at my disposal that really have enhanced my credibility at work that have meant that I'm being invited into meetings that I wasn't invited into before. It's just given me you know, so much ammunition to do my job better, and confidence do my job better. So that's, that's a really big highlight to hear how people are really using what they learned, they learned to kind of improve themselves, but also improve the impact that they have on work and also the impact they're having beyond work. So quite a few students as a result of, you know, the confidence and knowledge that they're building have now set up like industry sustainability groups, for example, we've got a guy who works for a local brewery, he's now set up a group of a group of local breweries that are all trying to tackle sustainability stuff together, because they've got a bigger voice as a group of small breweries, and they would standing alone, so people are driving impact beyond even their own organisations into the sector. Some people are even starting to influence policy by lobbying government on issues. So it's, that's what's really exciting, I think.

Emily Slade: and I understand, you guys got recognised?

Dr Rosina Watson: I gonna mention that point, that was super exciting when I got the email saying that this apprenticeship was recognised as part of the King's coronation celebrations for its contribution to green skills development in the UK, that was obviously a big highlight. But it's not really me that it's doing that it's, it's the people on the students on the course, who are who are who are achieving that.

Emily Slade: So what does that mean to be to be recognised? Is that just sort of like an acknowledgement from the monarch?

Dr Rosina Watson: Yes, it's no. So we just get a logo that we can use, it's an acknowledgement, but by the monarch in terms of you know, your credit, you're contributing something that's really key to the UK moving forward, and we can use the logo.

Emily Slade: Amazing. So the practical question of funding - what's available?

Dr Rosina Watson: So the costs, the course cost is £18,000 for the whole two and a half year course and companies can use can fund £11,000 of that through the Apprenticeship Levy. So there's only there's only £7000 to pay out of the company's own pocket.

Emily Slade: Your next cohort is starting September this year?

Dr Rosina Watson: No, March, March 5th, but the applications have just closed for that cohort. So in the next week or so we'll be opening applications for the one after that, which is September 17th this year (2024).

Emily Slade: Incredible. Is there anything else that you wanted to say about it?

Dr Rosina Watson: I would like to say that I think don't, don't be, don't be put off. If you think you've either got too much expertise already or too little. I think we have, I think we have people at both ends. So do reach out and get it get in touch and sort of explore whether you think this is the right course for you. So if you think you've got too little experience, so probably just under under estimating what you know, and what you've done. And if you've got too much experience, I think we find some people have deep experience in some areas of sustainability. But even so the course has allowed them to really widen and broaden their expertise across different elements of sustainability. The other thing to say is, our typical eligibility criteria are that you have a prior undergraduate degree. But if you haven't got an undergraduate degree, but you've got some decent length of experience of working. So you know, between five and 10 years of working, because we're very much a practice practitioner oriented University, we can take that into account. And we do accept people who haven't got undergrad degrees if they can demonstrate that they've developed the skills for Master's level study elsewhere in their career.

Emily Slade: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time today.

Dr Rosina Watson: Pleasure. Thanks, Emily.

Emily Slade: Thanks again to Rosina for her time. If you want to find out more, you can head to the Cranfield School of Management website or click the links below. Make sure to give us a follow wherever you get your podcasts. If you want to get in touch you can email us at podcast@prospects.ac.uk or find us on Instagram and TikTok all the links are in the description. Thanks very much for listening and we'll see you next time.

Note on transcripts

This transcript was produced using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. The audio version is definitive and should be checked before quoting.

Find out more

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page