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Nowadays, the environment/land-based sector remains a very significant part of our economic and national life, managing roughly 85% of the UK's total landmass, and contributing an estimated £26 billion per annum to the economy in terms of value added. The sector is forecast to need 595,000 entrants between now and 2020 which is very promising for graduates looking for an environmental graduate career.

The environment is more of a maintenance profession than a mode of production. Working in the environment or physical resources sector may include research, teaching, exploration or conservation in the area of geoscience, seismology, mining, and minerals, hydrology, botany, forestry, soil and agricultural science, geography, oceanography, archaeology, space or atmospheric science, biodiversity and many others.

The competition for jobs varies according to the area which is being targeted. There are many opportunities in conservation but a job in marine biology, oceanography or seismology for instance may be harder to come by. It might be necessary to volunteer first in order to get your foot in the door. The more scientific and specialist the field a graduate works in, the more money they can expect to be paid. Volunteering is also a very rewarding step on the path to a career in the environment as many organisations are always willing to listen to and share their knowledge with interested graduates.

The salaries within the industry vary depending upon entry qualification and the industry you want to work in. Graduate members of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) earn on average £25,000, but this rises to £37,700 for those at associate level. Environmental professionals in mining and quarrying have the highest annual salary, averaging at £57,000. There are a lot of opportunities for self-employment within this sector too with more than 55% of the agricultural workforce being self-employed.

In recent years there has been a revival in farming across the UK with a big drive to support locally grown products. Prospective farmers need a combination of practical skills, business skills and environmental knowledge to keep up-to-date with regulatory requirements.

There is a current shortage of workers with agronomy skills (soil management and crop production), which is an area of work that is increasingly important in modern agricultural practices. There is also a shortage in horticulture, landscape architecture and land-based engineering. Alongside this is an urgent need for young people to enter fishery management positions.

The environmental sector has seen an increase in renewable energy, contaminated land, flood risk management and energy management roles. Companies across all sectors are employing more environmentalists or using environmental consultancies for public relations and corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Average Environmental Graduate Salary

Environmental Graduate Career Path

The majority of all businesses in this sector employ less than ten people. Large traditional graduate management intakes are therefore relatively rare. However, there are a large number of smaller businesses that are interested in graduates who can hit the ground running. There has been major growth in the use of land for leisure as opposed to purely production-oriented purposes. This is particularly evident in the growth of the horticultural, landscaping, equine and environmental sectors.

  • Government agencies & departments
  • Museums, zoos and botanic gardens
  • National park authorities
  • Local authorities
  • Business and industry
  • Law firms
  • Environmental consultants
  • Voluntary conservation organisations
  • Specialist campaigning and pressure groups
  • Media
  • Science and research

As the overall UK economy has shifted towards a service orientation, the land-based sectors have also become more service oriented. For graduates, this means that many higher level jobs are located on the 'agri-business' side, as opposed to direct production.

An environmental graduate career can encompass a broad range of jobs from laboratory based analytical roles (soil scientists, geneticists) to outdoor activities such as conservation officers. Environmental employers come in all shapes and sizes. Here are the main categories:

The amenity horticulture sector can involve jobs in local government parks departments such as arboriculture officer, landscape officer, and parks manager. Some graduates pursue careers with botanic gardens such as Kew. With the increased concern for landscape and environmental issues in land use and construction, interest in careers in landscape and design continues to grow. This can be a competitive area for recruitment. There are a few advertised jobs in local government, landscape practices and private design and build operations. Self-employment is very common. The key to success in this field, therefore, is to make speculative approaches to potential employers.

Typical roles in rural management are executive officer (rural policy) with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and rural property surveyor with a major land agent. Typical roles on the environmental side are environmental education officer and environmental manager with one of the Wildlife Trusts or The National Trust. Local government is a major employer, and there are several large employers such as The Environment Agency (EA), English Nature, The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) and The Student Conservation Association. In Scotland, big players include the National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Scottish Natural Heritage.

Environmental jobs are incredibly popular and it's common to get several hundred applicants for one post. Yet many people clearly do get in. Most advertised posts ask for experience and acquiring this should be your priority. This does not have to be paid, nor does it have to be full-time.

A vast range of organisations offer voluntary opportunities. Many people working in the sector started with voluntary work, building up contacts, getting known, networking. Paid casual work is rarely advertised and will often be offered to those who have already shown commitment, enthusiasm, and hard work as a volunteer. You must do your research and target organisations carefully. Find out who is doing what and where, and write to them. Be prepared to do anything, however menial and stick at it. The odd day here and there will not be enough. Work hard at acquiring skills that are going to be useful. These could include office skills and computer skills.

Environmental auditing is a fast growing career area and the work can be varied. Auditors may focus on just one area, for example waste minimisation, or conduct more comprehensive general environmental reviews. The work can also involve looking at the management structure of organisations to make sure that the commitment, resources, training and allocation of responsibilities exists to put an environmental management system in place.

Environmental consultancy includes work in areas such as water pollution, air and land contamination, environmental impact assessment, environmental audit, waste management, environmental policy, ecological/land management, noise and vibration measurement and environmental management. New legislation requires increased monitoring for emissions, waste and land redevelopment and this has led to an increasing demand in employment opportunities. Entry to the environmental consultancy profession is competitive. Career progression in consultancy usually involves accepting a greater amount of office-based work. Effective marketing of the business and managing people, contracts and resources will take over from the environmental work. Consultants operate in a very commercial environment and senior staff may be required to help attract future clients for the business.

Environmental reporting takes place in energy and water companies. Also organisations that have an impact on the natural environment, for example oil companies. In addition, many companies contract this work to specialist environmental consultants, who generally recruit people after a few years of experience. Postgraduate qualifications in environmental subjects are normally desirable.

Environmental health officers investigate any environmental threats to the population of the local authority they work for. These might include air, water or noise pollution and visits restaurants and shops to check hygiene standards. You might initially start working as an environmental health assistant before being sponsored on a relevant training course.

Many of the research jobs in this industry are not strictly environment-related, but are in engineering, energy, public sector research laboratories and related areas where an environment degree may make a good starting point. You may get a job as a trainee research scientist with a good first degree but for those wanting a long term career in research it may be advisable to study for a doctorate. Soft skills such as report writing, ability to make presentations, project management and computer skills are now very important to possess.

Careers working for, and in, the environment often come with sacrifices. Environmentalists may spend many years working on projects and have to wait to patiently before their research pays dividends, therefore you should consider whether you can commit to projects for the long term before you start. Graduates will find that many organisations rely on the assistance or goodwill of others, and many can find their work controlled by government policies.

Qualifications and Skills Needed

What proportion of candidates as a percent we place into Environmental graduate careers and the typical qualities graduate employers look for.

GRB Placements for Environmental by Degree

Typical Candidate Attributes

Job prospects in some areas are very good with the industry needing highly competent and enthusiastic new graduates. In fact, there is a shortage of good recruits in some areas. In some jobs, the hours can be long, but they can also extremely rewarding. Salary levels vary dramatically and as vacancies in the sector are becoming harder to fill, salary levels will continue to rise in order to attract the right people.

An environmental or land-based qualification is very transferable, both within Europe and in the rest of the world. For example, many projects in the developing world - perhaps to help people obtain clean water or grow food crops in a sustainable way - need people with just these skills and knowledge. And as the sector is so diverse, whatever your ability, experience or ambitions, the land-based and environmental industries are bound to have opportunities for you. The options are endless.

Environmental careers attract graduates in subjects such as life sciences, geography and geology but physicists, chemists and engineers will also find clear opportunities, as will those with business and IT skills. However, even with a completely unrelated first degree its possible to make a career. Experience gained through voluntary work will sometimes compensate for lack of relevant academic background. It is a good idea to check the entry requirements for each area of work before you apply. You'll also find that it's common to have a postgraduate qualification, usually a masters degree.

Graduates entering this area of work should be personable and practical in order to understand the complex relationship between the natural world and human enterprise. To work in consultancy you should have a diverse range of technical and scientific knowledge and skills. IT skills such as word processing, use of spreadsheets and graphics packages are essential. You must be able to present complex technical and scientific data in a form that is intelligible to a person without specialist knowledge. A driving licence is almost always required. Positions in conservation may require previous voluntary or project work experience involving practical ecological assessment or survey work.

Sources for Further Information

Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment
Natural Environment Research Council
Countryside Management Association
Royal Geographical Society
Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists
Environmental Services Association
International Water Association
British Ecological Society
Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management