From downturn to upturn?

22nd March 2011

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The environmentalist talks to recruitment specialists about the current job market for environmental professionals

The labour market for environmental professionals over the past two years mirrors that of the economy generally. Unemployment was 5.1% in February 2008; by the end of 2010 it was 7.9%. “It has been quite tough for environment practitioners, especially those involved in land development,” says Paul Gosling, operations director at international sustainability recruitment specialist Allen & York.

However, the indications are that the labour market is improving, at least in the private sector. “Although hiring in environmental consultancy has been relatively quiet, there have been some definite ‘signs’ of improvement elsewhere,” says Beth Mitchell at Acre Resources.

“There has been an increase in demand for experienced environmental professionals to work in in-house positions; people with the commercial ability to oversee projects from conception to completion and manage internal stakeholders.”

Mark Burton, director at health, safety and environment recruitment consultants Attwood Burton, also reports more demand. “There are definitely more environmental jobs around than in the final quarter of 2010,” he notes.

Sam Smith at SER is even more optimistic: “There’s no real shortage of jobs. The only really difficult thing is finding exactly the right people to fill roles.”

Gosling at Allen & York and SER’s Smith see signs of life in particular sectors. “We’re now seeing positive growth in areas like energy management and renewables,” says Gosling.

Smith also says renewables is one area where demand for labour is surging. Research by RenewableUK recently found that the number of staff employed full time on large-scale offshore and onshore green-energy projects had increased from 4,800 in 2007 to around 9,200 last year – a 91% increase during a period of recession.

The number is likely to rise further, with Gamesa, GE, Mitsubishi and Siemens all planning to establish wind turbine manufacturing facilities in the UK. Also, the introduction of the feed-in tariff in April 2010 has created 17,000 jobs in the solar industry, according to the Renewable Energy Association.

Another area that suffered a dip during the downturn, but which is now showing signs of recovery, is the waste management sector. “There is strong demand from organisations for professionals who will help them deal with their waste,” says Gosling.

Allen & York has also detected some green shoots in manufacturing, with a pick-up in job opportunities for environmental professionals with compliance experience. “It’s slow, but demand is growing again for compliance posts,” says Gosling.

Burton at Attwood Burton also detects signs of a recovery in demand for environmental practitioners in manufacturing, particularly in high-tech industries, such as composite materials.

Mitchell at Acre Resources says there has been a marked increase in hiring for senior roles (£70,000+), requiring strategic decision-making experience and ability. She expects to see a continued demand for such individuals as companies react to emerging legislation and opportunity.

Getting the right job

So how do you find the right job? Not every vacancy is advertised, according to Guy Stevenson at recruitment firm People Unlimited Renewable Energy (PURE). He says that only 20%–30% of all jobs filled are through advertising, with the remainder through connections, referrals, headhunters and targeted direct applications.

“Companies see direct advertising as the riskiest hiring strategy. They are recruiting an unknown quantity,” he comments.

Stevenson offers the following six pieces of advice to those seeking employment opportunities:

  • Networking is the most powerful recruitment tool. Create a profile on LinkedIn and attend industry events. Get to know all the main players in your target market.
  • Discover the hidden job – keep an eye on industry news; find out what is going on, where and with whom.
  • Find out who the key members of staff are and make relationships with them.
  • Make direct applications – research the company you would like to apply to, find out who the hiring manager is and apply. Make sure you do it positively and honestly.
  • Be flexible – type of position, location and salary.
  • Be persistent and keep applying for positions – the more applications, the more interviews; the more interviews, the more chance of success.

Read the full survey results:


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