Hacking Skills for a Greener Future – How Skills Competitions Can Drive Innovative Solutions

Promoting and developing the skills needed by today’s youth to face the challenges of the global green transition can be a lot of fun – if you hold a hackathon, a European Training Foundation (ETF) livestream event Friday heard.

“Partnering for a Green Transition – What role can a hackathon play?” looked at the lessons learned from a hackathon jointly organised last September by the ETF, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), and international skills competition organiser WorldSkills.

The online hackathon brought young people from all over the world to work together in small teams to find a green solution to a thorny environmental challenge – how the agribusiness can generate less waste, lower carbon emissions, and reduce energy consumption.

The idea behind hackathons – which originally emerged from the world of ICT and tech start-ups seeking swift ways of generating innovation solutions to problems – was to combine a fun learning experience with a serious method of generating fresh and novel ideas for solving real life business, technical, social or environmental problems, the event heard.

A hackathon can be an international physical or digital event, or a small, locally-oriented challenge. Teams could, for example, compete between vocational education and training (VET) schools, or within a group of training providers, policy institutions or businesses.

Friday’s hour-long livestreamed UNIDO/ETF event looked specifically at how organisations promoting skills training, economic development or policy reform in education and labour markets could come together to use hackathons to further their agendas.

The event, which streamed across social media channels to an international audience, was introduced by Riccardo Savigliano, UNIDO’s chief agro-industries and skills development division, who said that hackathons can help encourage greater partnership in skills development at a time of historic change and technological development in labour markets as the need to address climate change becomes ever more pressing.

Kristien Van den Eynde, a specialist in entrepreneurship and enterprise at the ETF, noted:

“It was amazing to see how these young people [at the hackathon] easily connected to work to find a green solution to the problem.”

The hackathon design encouraged each team member to use their best skills and talents to contribute, encouraged teamwork and thinking outside the box.

“Hackathons are an innovative way of teaching and learning – peer learning, active learning – and very importantly, all the participants also learn a whole range of other key competencies, the soft skills of team work, problem-solving skills and online etiquette,” she added.

The EU Green Deal was at the heart of the ETF’s work and supporting the development of green skills and competencies among young people was a key way to find innovative solutions to combatting climate change, she noted.

Alexander Amiri of WorldSkills said that “green skills development for young people” was “not only crucial for our earth and sustainable economies,” but enabled organisations to forge a greater engagement with the most important challenges and opportunities faced by young people today.

Mattias Larsen, Industrial Development Expert at UNIDO and coordinator of the Learning and Knowledge Development Facility at UNIDO, which co-organised September’s hackathon, said it “had been a great way to engage young people, who are taking a more active and important role in bringing about changes.”

He added: “We want to give the floor to young people who are passionate about the greening of the agribusiness, green skills development and sustainability. And we want to connect them, their innovative ideas with international organisations and the private sector, to generate echoes and create impacts.”

Solutions to reducing the environmental impact, waste and carbon footprint of the agribusiness were – unsurprisingly – technological. Teams at the September hackathon came up with telephone apps that could be used, for example, to connect farmers and suppliers to find new ways of delivering food in cities, or better methods of sustainable food production and connecting with customers.

He added that although – to paraphrase Greta Thunberg’s criticism of the recent COP26 Climate Change conference – there needed to be a bit of “blah, blah, blah” around setting up and running a hackathon, they were an effective and tangible method of finding solutions to real challenges.

“It is up to us as international organisations to support ways of making such ideas become reality.”

Giving participants of a hackathon a general, more open question, tended to leave space for more innovative solutions to emerge, he stated.

Bringing private sector participants together with those from the world of skills delivery could also help bridge the gap between training relevance and market needs.

To see the full conversation:


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