The Future of Sustainability Professionals: report on a transdisciplinary workshop

Examples of job tasks and the key competencies which the participants linked them to (click to enlarge in a new tab)
In the waning weeks of 2016 a diverse and exemplary group of sustainability professionals gathered together in a classroom on the campus of Arizona State University to explore the question of whether the key competencies in sustainability are indeed the framework of what transformational future professionals in sustainability need. Our full report on the day’s event is available for download but we wanted to give you taste of it here.

A previous post summarized our approach from the key research questions to a methodological overview. Here we will briefly present what we learned about these questions.

What are examples of tasks carried out by Sustainability professionals and how can those be linked to the key competencies?

The participants of the workshop were highly knowledgeable about the key competencies in sustainability which made for insightful conversations. While it was agreed that these made a good framework there was a clear in-balance when job-tasks were linked to the specific competencies. As can be seen in the figure values and futures thinking lagged which was attributed by the participants to the fact these are less explicitly important
Count of key competencies linked to job tasks by participants
to specific tasks but are indeed foundationally important to virtually everything.

How did the participants attain their personal level of competence?

The general sentiment was that professional and other experiences outside of the classroom were the most important opportunities for improving one’s level of competence. It was widely agreed that the academic environment needs to change significantly if it is going to be equipping students with sufficient levels of competence in the key competencies for sustainability.

Is there a gap between current sustainability professionals and the requirement for future professionals?

There was a clear sentiment that our education system needs to change in order to yield a crop of professionals equipped to solve our problems for the future but not the specifics we hoped for. In large part this can be attributed to the fact that the use of the key competencies for sustainability as the qualifications for a sustainability professional is already a significant departure from the status quo. And while the participants saw this as a much needed step (for today); it being already a reach made it challenging to think even further beyond the key competencies when looking into the more distant future.

“I think futures thinking is a lot about questioning your values. That’s why people have such a hard time with it. Cause you start to question your values, then you have to question what you did in the past, and that’s a scary thing for people. It really is.”

Does having demonstrated development of the key competencies support the employability of an individual and in what ways?

There was a clear consensus on the importance of the key competencies in the success of a graduate as a change agent but there was little agreement that it would sufficiently support their employability. In large part this was attributed to the fact that universities do not give graduates credibility that they are able to actually do anything because success at a university is measured very differently from how an employer measures it. The key competencies could be the framework that brings this together but as yet it does not translate out in the field.








Aaron Redman has worked on extensively on Sustainability in Higher Education at Arizona State University, the National Autonomous University of Mexico and now as part of the Educating Future Change Agents project at Leuphana University and ASU. He is working on his PhD from the School of Sustainability at ASU and his research interests include educating for Sustainability, behavior change, and Sustainability in low-income contexts.

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