Founder of Social Mobility Green Skills Week Rob Powell talks to us about the role of apprenticeships in CSR and green careers

Posted on Sunday, April 21, 2024 by CJ Obi

We see it as our role as a responsible business to continue to engage with a diverse range of initiatives within Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), to learn more about good practice from the people we work and connect with, and to review our own processes against what we learn. 

As part of Social Mobility Green Skills Week (SMGSW) which took place last month, our Responsible Business lead CJ Obi spoke to its founder Rob Powell - Director of Pro Bono, Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP,  a long-standing client of Ryder Reid - to find out more about the initiative.  

In their chat below, Rob discusses the motivation behind SMGSW, the importance of raising awareness of sustainability jobs amongst young people, and the role of apprenticeships in giving people from a diverse range of backgrounds the opportunity to aspire to a green career.

What is SMGWS and who is behind it? 

“It’s an initiative conceptualised by Weil which was run in partnership with the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, generously funded by Amazon, and with The School Outreach Company coordinating engagement with schools. The campaign aims to connect CRS (Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability) professionals and apprentices with classrooms across the UK to speak to young people about sustainability, the opportunities available, and the different routes into it.  

This year’s campaign was a great success. It involved 78 CRS professionals visiting 43 schools in Banbury, Benton, Birkenhead, Birmingham, Bolton, Coventry, Darwen, Durham, Edinburgh, Gateshead, Glasgow, High Wycombe, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Luton, Northampton, North Oxfordshire, Rugby, Sheffield, Slough, Sunderland & Wokingham…hopefully we managed to inspire at least a few students!” 

What inspired this idea? 

“Five years ago, Weil formed and chaired a trailblazer group which went on to create the Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Practitioner (Level 4) – the UK’s first apprenticeship in CRS. Since then, more than 130 businesses across the country have recruited almost 200 CRS apprentices. Last year, the qualification received the King’s Coronation Emblem for its sustainability credentials – one of only six apprenticeship standards to do so – all of which is fantastic.  

However, research conducted as part of the CRS apprenticeship showed employers in some cases struggling to recruit CRS apprentices. It outlined that while the socio-economic background of CRS apprentices was more representative of society than the wider CRS profession, it hadn’t achieved the improvement in social mobility I was hoping it would.  

So that’s what inspired me to create this campaign – to bring together an army of CRS professionals to inspire the next generation, speak to young people about the different routes into CRS, and reach out to schools in social mobility cold spots.” 

Have there been any eye-opening moments when speaking to young people and schools, which might shape your approach to responsible business going forward? 

“The CRS profession can sometimes feel like businesses talking to themselves, and a lot of the terminology used isn’t really understood by the wider population.  So, speaking to young people in schools, that process of explaining what you do in jargon and acronym free language, was a good process. Explaining why this is important and what it means to them and their futures was a good process. 

I always get a buzz engaging with young people – I’m not sure the feeling is mutual though!” 

Why are apprenticeships so important when it comes to sustainability roles? 

“I think all professions should have an apprenticeship route – and the creation and subsequent adoption of the CRS Apprenticeship is another significant milestone in the maturity of the CRS profession. 

There was a really good Sutton Trust report last year which looked at the socio-economic diversity of those undertaking higher apprenticeships (Level 4-7) – it found that the majority were being taken up by people from more advantaged backgrounds who have the means to attend university if they wish.  

The CRS Apprenticeship hasn’t been completely immune to that either, which is another reason why SMGSW was created. With SMGSW we want to put this on the radar not just for students but also teachers. To think about this as a potential career for their students who show an interest in climate change, social justice etc. And to help young people from all backgrounds access apprenticeships in this field.” 

What can we and other recruitment firms do to support and promote green skills in the legal sector going forward? 

“As a recruitment firm you have a big network, a lot of connections, it’s about providing guidance to firms who are at the infant stage of their sustainability journey in terms of talent. Also applying some metrics to candidates you put forward for roles - e.g. what is the socioeconomic diversity of the candidates you put forward for not only CRS vacancies but all roles.” 


You can keep an eye out on ours and Weil’s LinkedIn pages for updates on green skills initiatives within the legal sector. Or, for anyone looking to access work in this area, get in touch with me - I’ll be happy to support you! 

Written by CJ Iruoma Obi, Executive Search Consultant at Ryder Reid specialising in placing Social Impact, Sustainability, DEI, and Business Services professionals in U.S and International Law firms. CJ joined Ryder Reid in 2023, having worked in permanent recruitment for over 12 years. He has a real passion for Social Value advisory work, supporting a number of organisations across different sectors with their responsible business initiatives. 

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