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Mainstream vocational education and training (VET) has been complicit in unsustainable practices due to its longstanding relationship with productivism, extractivism and colonialism. However, it is beginning to address the need to balance its dominant focus on skills for employability with a growing awareness of the imperative to promote environmental sustainability, in terms of skills for sustainable production. There is also a sense that vocational institutions must also be sustainable in the wider sense of viability, durability, etc. While these positive steps are welcome, careful analysis is needed regarding how far recent initiatives are limited both by institutional capacities and wider disenabling environments, and how far they are meaningful steps towards sustainable VET for just transitions. Moreover, the current debate is also limited in its overwhelming focus on formal spaces of learning and work. Yet, most vocational learning and work sits outside this formal realm. We contribute to this debate by exploring four case studies of complex skills ecosystems with varying levels of (in)formality taken from both rural and urban settings in Uganda and South Africa. We consider how the dynamics of each ecosystem generate complex mixes of sustainability and employability concerns. We suggest that, in cases like the more formalised ones presented here, there is a possibility to look at the development of centres of skills formation excellence grounded in sector and place but that this also requires thinking about bigger challenges of just transitions. More radically, by highlighting the contexts of less formalised skills ecosystems in two other cases, we point towards new ways of thinking about supporting such ecosystems’ work on sustainable livelihoods in ways that enhance their durability. Although context always matters, we suggest that our arguments are pertinent beyond the countries or region of this research and have international salience.
Keywords: vocational education and training, Africa, green skills, sustainable development, skills for sustainability