Insight Into... careers in the environment

There has been a significant increase in environmental roles in recent years and predictions indicate that the number is set to expand further. The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) states:

‘Skills in this profession are now proving to be more vital…there is a skills gap; only 13% of organisations are fully confident that they have the skills to successfully compete in a sustainable economy.

By 2020 the global economy could be facing a supply deficit caused by rising population matched with growing scarcity of vital resources, rapidly rising prices of key essential materials such as energy, together with climate change challenges. Collectively these issues will not only affect business’ ability to operate but limit its ability to take advantage of opportunities to enhance competitiveness and productivity…environment and sustainability skills are the key to turning these challenges into opportunities.’

Types of jobs

The environment overarches all sectors of the economy; this is reflected in the environmental commitments being made by governments, the private sector, educational establishments, charities and social enterprises, and this has resulted in a rising number of employment opportunities being created. Because it is such a large sector there is a vast range of exciting job roles available, such as:

  • Ecologist
  • Environmental Consultant
  • Botanist
  • Field Surveyor
  • Nature Conservation Officer
  • Landscape Architect
  • Hydrogeologist
  • Marine Biologist
  • Arboriculturist
  • Oceanographer
  • Energy Engineer
  • Recycling Officer
  • Waste Management Officer
  • Water Quality Scientist

There are overlaps between environmental and sustainability job titles, for example, Environmental Managers are increasingly known as Sustainability Managers. Visit Prospects for detailed job descriptions of roles in the environmental sector. Also, you may wish to refer to Careers Network’s 'Insight into graduate ecology careers', and Target Careers’ guide to environmental careers and how to get them.

Where could I work?

Roles exist within a variety of organisation types, including:

  • Educational institutions
  • Environmental and ecological consultancies
  • National governmental and statutory bodies
  • Industry
  • Local Authorities
  • Media
  • NGOs and voluntary organisations
  • Scientific bodies

How can I increase my employability?

Get networking

According to IEMA, ‘Only 40% of jobs are advertised, so networking with environmental professionals is a must.’

You should make the most of networking opportunities wherever you can find them and you will need to be proactive to source the kind of work you want. Many employers don’t need to advertise their jobs as they have a number of willing volunteers from which they can source suitable applicants.

What you can do to build some connections:

Expand your knowledge

Subscribe to resources such as the edie, Environmental News Network (EEN) and European Environment Agency (EEA) newsfeeds for daily updates.

Work experience

Due to the competitiveness of the environmental sector it’s essential to get to work experience - according to Lantra approximately 200,000 people are volunteering in the UK on conservation projects alone.

Avoid restricting your search for advertised opportunities; through research and networking try to source your own experience which is tailored to the careers you’re interested in. Charities have limited resources to manage volunteers, and therefore much prefer a volunteer who has done their research and is proposing a project or role that they could work on.

Also consider local social enterprises cooperatives and community interest companies: Social Enterprise UK

For ecology, volunteer for local conservation groups and gain experience of working with protected species. Experience in habitat management and habitat surveying is also very valuable.

For more information, have a look at our ‘Finding work experience in the environmental sector’ page.

If you’re finding it challenging to get experience in your chosen area, you may want to consider writing a series of blogs about the challenges, as well as about your career goals and the experience you’re seeking. You don’t know who might read these and if you articulate yourself well, they may lead to you receiving offers you didn’t expect.

Learned societies

Learned Societies can provide a wealth of experience to members, including short courses and even internships and placements, as well as the opportunity to network with employers and academics at conferences. Many also have some useful online careers resources. A detailed list of UK learned societies relating to all aspects of biology, including ecology is available on the IntoBiology website.

Specific societies which may be of interest include the British Ecological Society, which have their own career booklet, and a ‘Top 10 tips for getting a career in ecology’. The society also hosts an annual Undergraduate Careers Conference each February, and runs summer schools and the Women in Ecology Mentoring Scheme. You may also find it helpful to refer to the Careers Network 'Professional Associations for GEES students' page.

Are you driven?

Many roles working in the environment or in ecology require travel to visit clients and to undertake site work and surveys, as well as working in the office. Consequently, you may often see that it is compulsory for applicants to possess a clean UK driving licence. If you haven’t yet passed your driving test, you may be limiting the vacancies you can apply for, so it may be worth considering taking your driving test as soon as possible. (Some employers request at least two years’ driving experience, as well as a clean licence).

Get trained and licenced

Regulations restrict who is able to undertake work with ecological species in the UK. Common licences include those for bat handling and dormice surveys. The Government website provides detailed information on the types of licence required under UK law for environmental management. A quick search will provide you with details of the specific licences available for individual species such as dormice, great crested newts and bats.

If you are planning to work in ecology, you may find it helpful to consider what species you would like to work with and identify which employers work with these species, such as consultancies which specialise in surveying certain fauna or flora and ask if they expect applicants to have experience and licences in advance of joining. Even if they say that they don’t require experience, if you have been proactive obtaining experience during your time at university and have applied for a licence yourself, this will help to demonstrate your passion and commitment for the industry sector and may give you an advantage over many other applicants.

Many opportunities leading to a licence are seasonal in nature, so it may be helpful to regularly monitor on-line resources which promote these, such as the Countryside Jobs Service (CJS) - you can subscribe to this for free daily updates. The CJS also provides a helpful training resource, with links to courses nationwide. However, you should note that there may be costs associated with many of these training courses.

Researching environmental careers

Careers Network has a number of online resources on ResourceLists to help students start their research into the environmental sector, specifically the pages on Natural resources and the Environment and Charity, Development work and Regeneration.

Below are some additional useful links:

Vacancy links


Professional Services