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The cutting edge of the knowledge economy – a view from the digger bucket

Now that I’ve submitted an expanded second edition of my book to my publisher in the UK, Global Professional Publishing (it will be published in September this year), I find I’m having to explain the purpose and content of the book in a different way. It’s not easy!

It started when I attended a 2-day VIP workshop for professional speakers and confessed to everyone there that having just submitted the book, I hadn’t prepared anything at all to present. I was also struggling to get out of the detail and into my “why”, to explain the book when people ask, “So what?” Facilitator Linda McDermott was totally unfazed by this, and the two days were hugely productive.

My learning was tested some weeks later, when someone said the topic of environmental training was very narrow and would only appeal to a very specialised audience. Well! I had to investigate my outrage to realise how useful that statement was for helping me distill my message.

As far as I can see, the only audiences that environmental training wouldn’t appeal to are businesses who don’t want to lift productivity and profitability; public agencies that don’t want a cost-effective solution to just about every environmental problem you can think of; communities who don’t want to work together to restore their local environments; and governments that don’t want to create jobs.

There is a huge amount of evidence that environmental training can do all these things, with national and international agencies all round the world working hard to bring them about.

Sometimes it’s difficult to understand how this can actually work on the ground, when at the policy level we are talking about the “knowledge economy” and other important but abstract concepts.

Let me tell a story about the time I was on a large civil construction site and asked the Team Leader, Erosion and Sediment Control, how he’d ended up in the job. He said he was a digger operator building the various environmental controls and became quite interested in this aspect of his work – so much so that he was promoted to Team Leader. Over the years he built up considerable skill and seniority – something he would never otherwise have done.

Of course, these people are already experts: I’ve been lucky enough to have a go on a digger – it was fantastic fun and I was absolutely hopeless! You can rotate the cab, turn one track to rotate the whole machine, drive forwards or backwards at any angle, raise or lower the arm and manipulate the bucket or whatever else is on the end of the arm – all at once! It was a 4-d operation like orienting a starship in the depths of the interstellar space. These guys are so good they can use their digger bucket to pour a cup of tea and add sugar without spilling a drop. If you don’t believe me, check out the link below.Another digger operator developed so much expertise on very technically demanding and environmentally sensitive projects that he would actually be named in contract documents for certain projects where his skills were particularly needed, such as stream bed and bank restoration. So while remaining a digger operator, he became increasingly valuable to his company – and would, of course, find his skills and remuneration increasing accordingly.And think of the value of these two men as mentors to their staff and colleagues – what an asset for human resource development and overall company value they must be!

These men are real-life examples of the much-vaunted “knowledge economy” that many governments struggle to translate into practical realities. Of course, other types of training can deliver such benefits – especially literacy and numeracy training: I’ve seen environmental training become a vehicle for this, too, as people learn how to follow detailed designs, read meters and log their environmental tasks. Building these skills generates tremendous increases in staff loyalty and engagement, productivity and of course, profitability for the companies concerned.

There are also big opportunities in what Storm Cunningham calls the “restoration economy”: already large but low-profile, this emerging economic sector involves reviving places damaged by human activities (war, pollution and the like) and natural disasters (earthquakes, flooding and so on). The former will grow as more of us understand the net social and economic harm of such unsustainable activities, and the latter as climate change intensifies and we learn more about the poor land use choices of the past that put people and investments in risky places.

So, better skills, more jobs, better outcomes for people and places – in some cases transforming the faltering economies of entire towns – what’s not to like!

Find out more about Global Professional Publishing here.
Click here and here to find out how environmental training creates jobs.

Go to FunkeyNote to find out more about the wonderful Linda McDermott, speaking coach extraordinaire.

See the photos and hear the interview about the National Excavator Operator Competition on the Radio New Zealand website Spectrum page.

Click here to find out more about Storm Cunningham’s work.