Environmentalists are getting to work

16th March 2014

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Stuart Gascoigne

Paul Suff finds an improving picture in the labour market for environment professionals

Just over 30 million people in the UK aged 16 and over were in employment in the three months to the end of December 2013, according to official figures. That's an employment rate of 72.1%, with 396,000 more people entering the workforce since the same period in 2012. Unemployment is now at 7.2%, having peaked at 8.4% towards the end of 2011 following the downturn.

The economic recovery has been accompanied by the creation of more full-time jobs, with the number of people working full time increasing by 209,000 between September and December 2013. The office for national statistics reported in February that the sector showing the largest increase in jobs between September 2012 and September 2013 was professional, scientific and technical activities, which increased by 137,000 to reach 2.62 million.

These positive statistics are reflected in the findings from the latest IEMA practitioners' survey (pp.iii-xii), which reveals a decline in unemployment among respondents from 2.4% in 2012 to 1.4% in 2013.

2014 forecasts

The encouraging labour market picture emerging during 2013 is expected to improve further throughout the next 12 months, with employment numbers forecast to expand and unemployment levels set to fall further.

The CBI's latest economic forecast, published in February, predicts that UK business investment growth will rise by 6.6% this year and a further 8.3% in 2015. Meanwhile, the CBI forecasts that the unemployment rate will fall to 6.8% by the end of 2014 and to 6.6% during the following year.

In December 2013, the annual CBI/Accenture employment trends survey found that the number of companies in the UK expecting to create jobs, over the next 12 months outweighs those not creating jobs for the first time since the onset of the recession in 2008. The survey reveals that private sector workforces are anticipated to grow across all regions, with Yorkshire and the Humber and the East Midlands the most buoyant.

According to CBI/Accenture's findings, job openings for permanent staff are increasing more rapidly than temporary posts and there has been a steady upturn in employment prospects for graduates, with more organisations planning to increase their graduate intake than reduce it over the next 12 months.

Among the sectors forecast to see strong growth over the next year are manufacturing, construction and professional services - all sectors that generally employ environment professionals. According to the research, the proportion of manufacturing companies that expect to increase staff numbers by the end of the year is 35% higher than those that expect to lose staff. The equivalent figures for construction and the "knowledge" industries - defined as the science, hi-tech and IT sector and the professional services sector - are 51% and 49% respectively.

The CBI/Accenture poll reports that job growth will be seen across the economy, with the majority of large companies and small and medium-sized firms expecting to expand their workforce over the coming year.

Global recruitment business ManpowerGroup also reports that the UK jobs market in 2014 will experience positive growth. "We've had several quarters of optimism and that looks set to continue into the new year," said Mark Cahill, UK managing director at ManpowerGroup in December 2013, when launching the firm's quarterly labour market outlook report. It reveals that utility companies in particular showed strong signs of hiring, demonstrating growth in another sector that has traditionally employed environment practitioners.


The global environmental consulting sector grew by 3.6% in 2012 and was worth £16.7 billion, according to the online research service Environmental Analyst. Its latest report confirms that, as in 2011, water and waste management services account for the bulk of consultancy work (30%), closely followed by contaminated land projects (29%).

The proportion of work relating to environmental impact assessment (EIA) fell slightly year on year, from 14% to 13%, while the amount of climate change and energy services provided by consultants increased from 7% to 10%. Both areas are expected to experience strong growth in the next few years, however.

"Spend on climate change and energy services is set to grow by more than 35% in the next five years, while EIA and sustainable development spend will increase by almost 17%," says Liz Trew, co-author of the report and editor of Environment Analyst's global market intelligence service. Trew forecasts that future growth would be highly sector and region specific. Overall, she expects annual growth of 3% in the environmental consultancy sector up to 2017.

Several consultancies are already expanding their workforces. Atkins, the design, engineering and project management consultancy, announced in September 2013 that it had recruited 400 young people. The 330 graduates and 75 apprentices, one of the largest intakes of young people in the company's 75-year history, will undertake a variety of roles, working as engineers, environmentalists, management consultants, scientists and planners. They will be based throughout the UK, across Atkins' business units in energy, rail, water and environment, highways and transportation, design and engineering, and defence, aerospace and communications.

"The future of our industry and its ability to create a better quality of life for us all depends on attracting and retaining the most talented young people in the design, engineering and project management fields," says Sue Cooper, HR director at Atkins UK. "There is likely to be a shortage of suitably qualified young people to deliver the technically complex and time critical challenges in the years ahead. Coupled with the increasing demand for infrastructure and other engineering capabilities, this means companies in our sector need to address the issue now."

CH2M Hill is another consultancy expanding in the UK, following its acquisition of Halcrow in 2012. The company, which is working on a number of high-profile projects, including decommissioning the Dounreay nuclear power plant and developing the Crossrail and HS2 railways, announced the creation of 500 new jobs in 2013. The roles are spread across the country and in a wide range of high-skilled engineering and technical roles, as well as graduate positions.

Meanwhile, WSP has announced that its UK strategy is to grow its market share from 2% to 3% over the next three years, with net revenue expected to grow 10% each year. "Growth [in 2014] will predominantly come from rail, highways, commercial and residential property," says UK managing director Mark Naysmith. "This is particularly true in London and the South East, where the market is booming and regional activity is increasing. On the back of key roles in major national projects, such as Crossrail, we are well positioned to continue winning market share."

To deliver the expected growth, WSP will be recruiting across all its regions this year, including increasing its intake of graduates and apprentices. The UK business currently employs more than 2,400 people, covering property, development planning, management, industrial consultancy, infrastructure, environment and energy.

Jo Berry-Norman, HR manager at Environ UK, told the environmentalist that demand for its consultancy services is high, as businesses feel more confident that the economic recovery is a lasting one.

"Professionals with experience in EIA, contaminated land and due diligence are in demand," confirms Berry-Norman. However, finding candidates with sufficient experience in these fields is difficult, she says, as some left the profession or switched to other, more buoyant, areas during the recession. "There's a bit of shortfall in practitioners with four to six years' experience in EIA and due diligence, and there is now a high demand for those that stayed working in these areas throughout the downturn."

Environment recruitment specialist, Lydia Fairman, who heads the HR and recruitment company Fairman Consulting, agrees that skills shortages are emerging now that the jobs market is picking up. She believes that this is partly explained by some practitioners leaving the UK for other countries to escape the downturn, as well as reluctance during the recession to invest in graduates, which means there is now a much smaller pool of practitioners with practical knowledge to recruit from. "There is particularly strong demand for senior EIA consultants," says Fairman.

Andrew Tew, senior consultant at sustainability recruitment company Acre, also reports that it is difficult to recruit senior consultants and that competition for suitably experienced individuals is strong. "Environment professionals skilled in EIA, contaminated land, air quality and due diligence are all in demand," says Tew. "But there is a real lack of senior-level consultants."

Alongside increased demand for EIA specialists, recruiters are also looking to fill positions in ecology, geotechnical and environment consultancy work. Reflecting the announcements made by Atkins and WSP, both Fairman and Tew report that consultancies generally are boosting their graduate intake. "Consultancies are once again investing in graduate schemes," says Fairman.


One area of the economy that is boosting demand for environment practitioners, particularly those working in the built environment, is the investment going into the UK's infrastructure, from plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations and other electricity generation facilities to improvements in the road and rail networks, including the HS2 high-speed rail link.

The government claims that hundreds of thousands of jobs are to be supported by up to £110 billion of private sector investment in electricity, for example. In a speech at the UCL Energy Institute in December 2013, energy secretary Ed Davey, said: "Investment is now flowing into the UK, which will boost energy security, reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels, and support up to 200,000 jobs by 2020."

The £16 billion project to build the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station could create 25,000 jobs during construction, according to the government. In October 2013, the transport department published its Strategic case for HS2 on creating a fast rail link between London and Birmingham, and Manchester and Leeds. It says the line will be the biggest infrastructure project in Europe and will have a significant impact on jobs, particularly in engineering and construction. The government estimates that the building phase of HS2 will create at least 24,600 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs. Construction of phase I, from the capital to Birmingham, is due to start in 2017, though the involvement of environment practitioners, including EIA professionals, has already started.

The government is keen to develop an onshore oil and gas industry in the UK, which will also provide employment opportunities for environment professionals. A 2013 report, Getting shale gas working, by the Institute of Directors estimated that the developing UK shale gas industry could support up to 74,000 jobs. the environmentalist reported last year that Cuadrilla Resources, the first company to explore shale gas reserves in the UK, is drawing on the experience of the US shale gas sector and revealed that around 20% of the indirect jobs created - those not directly associated with drilling operations - are for roles spanning professional, scientific and technical services, while 15% are in waste and administrative services. The study estimated that Cuadrilla's planned UK operations - it has licences to explore reserves in Lancashire and Sussex - could create 5,600 FTE jobs between 2016 and 2019.

Low carbon goods and services

In July 2013, the business department published its latest analysis of the UK low carbon environmental goods and services (LCEGS) sector. It reported that UK LCEGS sales in 2011/12 totalled £128.1 billion, having increased by £5.9 billion (4.8%) between April 2011 and March 2012.

Overall, the UK LCEGS sector employs more than 939,000 people - this total is now stable following a 25,000 increase in jobs between 2009/10 and 2010/11. The sector is divided into three main blocks: environmental; renewable energy; and low carbon goods and services. These are in turn divided into 24 subsectors, the largest of which are: alternative fuels (accounting for 15% of total LCEGS sales); building technologies (12%); wind energy (12%); alternatively fuelled vehicles (11%); and geothermal energy (9%). Together these subsectors account for 57% of LCEGS employment.

The business department forecasts that LCEGS sales growth will continue to outperform the UK economy as whole, rising by: 5.5% in 2013/14; 5.7% in 2014/15; and 5.9% in 2015/16. It also notes that the greatest growth is likely to be in the wind and carbon finance subsectors.

The renewable energy sector is one LCEGS area predicting employing more people in 2014. The Renewable Energy Association (REA) reported the findings of its latest members' business confidence survey in October 2013. It revealed that renewable energy companies were more confident they would see an improvement in turnover, new business and employment over the next six to 12 months than they were at the start of 2013 when the previous poll was conducted.

Specifically, 42% of respondents to the 2013 REA survey reported that they expected to increase employment over the next 12 months, compared with 25% in the first quarter (Q1) of 2013. Also, one-third of companies responding to the poll reported that they had increased employment numbers over the previous six months, compared with 26% in Q1.

REA chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska comments: "The renewables industry is poised to significantly grow its contribution to employment and the economic recovery." The REA predicts that the sector will support 400,000 jobs in the UK by the end of the decade, though reaching these heights will depend on the level of government support for the sector and the prediction was made before the European commission decided not to set national 2030 targets for renewable energy.

In September 2013, RenewableUK, the trade body for the UK wind and marine renewables sector, updated its 2010 study into employment in the UK wind and marine industries and reported that job numbers increased by 74%.

It also predicted that a further 70,000 jobs could be created over the next decade, nearly half of which would be in offshore wind. "The offshore wind sector alone could be employing nearly 45,000 workers in the 2020s," says Maria McCaffery, chief executive at RenewableUK.

Tew at Acre confirms that recruitment in the offshore wind industry is buoyant.

Healthy environment

For environment professionals seeking employment or a fresh challenge, there are clear signs that more job opportunities are emerging and that there is a high demand for practitioners with the right combination of skills and experience. Both Fairman and Tew report an across-the-board rise in demand for environment practitioners, particularly those with good technical knowledge.

According to Fairman, the change is reflected in the fact that companies are now more likely to offer permanent rather than short-term contracts. "Previously, ecologists, for example, would typically have got a six-month contract, as that is generally how long they would be needed on a project. But that is no longer always the case, and many are being offered longer-term contracts," she says.

And, in a change that highlights the lack of people with suitable skills, experience and knowledge, Fairman says clients are now asking her to alert them if she receives a good CV, even if they are not advertising positions. "Speculative applications are back," she says.

So if you are looking for a new opportunity, it is advisable to update your CV and circulate it to recruiters, your networks and post it on your profile on jobs.environmentalistonline.com. The CBI/Accenture survey cited earlier found that recruitment agencies are the single most widely used source of new staff (72%). Online recruitment via firms' own websites (68%) and other job sites (59%) are also widely used ways of filling vacancies. It also noted that personal contact remains important, with more than half of businesses recruiting through employee referrals, as well as other channels.

Read the results of the latest IEMA practitioner survey:

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