Environmental organisations facing shortage of expert staff

16th August 2023


A lack of expert staff at environmental organisations is undermining the UK government’s net zero and nature commitments, new research by the trade union Prospect has uncovered.

After polling 500 environmental professionals, the researchers found that four in 10 have seen expert staff cut back in the last year, with more than two-thirds thinking overall staffing levels are too low, and half reporting vacancies in their teams.

This is resulting in increased workloads for staff, with tasks also being assigned to untrained staff.

A reduction in specialist personnel, lack of secure funding, and inadequate IT systems, were cited by 52%, 41% and 35% of respondents, respectively, while turnover of government ministers or lack of leadership by senior management were also noted.

And despite the skilled nature of roles, approximately 38% of those surveyed earn £30,000 or less, while 35% earn between £30,000 and £40,000, with women appearing to be disproportionately affected by low pay in the sector.

Respondents were from organisations including the Nature Conservation Committee, National Trust, Natural England, and the Environment Agency, as well as devolved bodies in Scotland and Wales.

Commenting on the findings, IEMA’s deputy CEO, Martin Baxter, said: “The UK will not achieve its environmental targets without the expertise of specialist sustainability professionals, so it is worrying to see that organisations are cutting back at such an important time.

“We need to support workers with the green skills and training that they need, and provide well-paid jobs to ensure they stay within the sector.

IEMA’s report with Deloitte outlines how organisations can accelerate the development of green skills across the workforce, while our Green Careers Hub provides a wealth of information for anyone looking to find out more about green skills, green jobs and potential career pathways.”

Approximately 35% of the professionals surveyed reported a significant increase in workload in the last 12 months, while 48% said there has been no progression in their roles.

As for the barriers to environmental preservation, 37% of respondents cited government policy as the primary obstacle, while economic factors, behaviours and reluctance to change, and resource limitations, were cited by 27%, 16% and 9%, respectively.

Sue Ferns, senior deputy general secretary at Prospect, said: “The insights provided by our expert members are invaluable to understanding what is happening on the front line of the fight to tackle the climate crisis.

“They are telling us that the paring back of expert roles in their teams is leaving them increasingly burnt out.

“Despite the government talking up the potential of green jobs, it is failing to put in place the funding needed to make working in the natural environment the aspirational career that it should be.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

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