On the job - the 2013 labour market

24th March 2013


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What is the outlook for the environment jobs market in 2013? Paul Suff investigates

The latest UK employment statistics – for the three months to December 2012 – reveal that 29.7 million people aged 16 and over were in work. They also show that unemployment is edging down, with 7.8% of the economically active population – 2.5 million people – out of work. Following the onset of the recession in 2007, the figure peaked at 8.4% towards the end of 2011.

The data, published in February, suggests that, despite continuing economic difficulties, the UK jobs market is relatively healthy. The main HR body in the UK, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), reports that employment will continue to grow in the first quarter of 2013.

Its latest Labour market outlook report, which was also released in February and measures the difference between the proportion of employers expecting to increase staff levels and the proportion expecting to cut jobs, shows that signs remains positive, particularly in the private sector. According to the HR body, recruitment intentions for the first quarter of 2013 are strongest in finance; insurance and real estate; and the manufacturing and production sectors.

“Growth in employment looks set to continue in the short term, despite faltering economic growth,” confirms Gerwyn Davies, labour market adviser at the CIPD. “While muted pay growth is playing a part, we also see continued evidence that employers are reluctant to layoff skilled workers.”

So, what is the outlook for environment professionals going forward? The CIPD reported in October 2012 that the majority of employers it had polled expected little change in their workforces over the next 12 months.

Nonetheless, many employers said they were finding it hard to recruit new staff, with positions in engineering, IT and management all described as difficult to fill. Employers also reported problems filling positions in a category titled “other”, which included consultancy, planning, project management, scientist and health, safety and environment (HSE) roles.

The 2013 IEMA pay survey reveals that one-third of organisations dedicated more resources to their environment functions in 2012 compared with the previous year. Of these, in close to 70% of cases, the additional resource went on employing more people. The new positions were created mostly in HSE management, sustainability and integrated management.

Signs of growing demand for environment professionals are demonstrated by increasing numbers of job postings on IEMA’s official jobsite:
jobs.environmentalistonline.com. Between January 2011 and January 2013, the number of new listings increased by more than 145%.


Recent research by Environment Analyst has confirmed that the environmental consulting (EC) sector is recovering from the economic downturn.

In November 2012, the organisation reported that the global EC market grew by 4.1% in 2011, compared with 2010, and predicted it would continue to grow by around 3.5% annually up to 2016. The analysis also highlighted recent areas of growth, with water and waste management services accounting for 30% of the global EC market in 2011 and contaminated land services 29%.

Meanwhile, work in environment management, compliance and due diligence, and in environmental impact assessment (EIA) and sustainable development each represented 14% of the market, and climate change and energy generation a further 7.5%.

The report’s author Liz Trew comments: “Future growth will be highly sector and region-specific, with spend on climate change and energy services set to grow by more than 31% in the next five-years, while environment management, compliance and due diligence spend will increase by almost 20%.”

A separate report on the state of the UK consultancy market revealed more modest growth of 2.4% in 2011. However, this follows contractions of 10% and 7% in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

The research also shows that four areas – EIA and sustainable development; contaminated land/remediation; water quality and resource management; and ecological/landscape services – continue to dominate the UK market, accounting for more than half of total revenue.

The environment and energy division of consultancy WSP grew by 9% worldwide in 2011/12. David Symons, director at WSP Environment & Energy, told the environmentalist that this part of the UK business grew by 15% over the past year, and describes it as the “shining light” in terms of performance in WSP, with “higher margins and faster growth” than other areas of the business.

Symons reports that contaminated land and permitting are now areas of strong growth, having suffered in the immediate onset of the economic downturn. He also says that work in the Scottish renewables sector is seeing healthy growth.

In terms of jobs, Symons says there is less demand in the market for generic jobs, such as environment managers, and advises environment professionals, particularly recent graduates, to focus on developing specific skill sets, such as in energy efficiency and permitting.

As the environmentalist goes to press, jobs.environmentalistonline.com lists more than 230 vacancies in the “consultancy” category, in areas like acoustics, air quality, hydrology, ecology, noise and vibration, and planning.

Energy and industry

The launch of the green deal in January provides many environment professionals with employment opportunities. Energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey claims the scheme, which allows the cost of installing energy-efficiency measures to be financed through a charge attached to a property’s electricity meter, could create up to 60,000 jobs over the next few years.

While most of those roles will be for installers of equipment, environment practitioners are well placed to be green deal assessors, particularly those already competent in carrying out assessments for energy performance certificates (EPC). Most practitioners will also be comfortable with meeting the standards imposed on assessors by certification bodies.

The impact assessment for the green deal, which was published by Decc in November 2012, forecasts that, by 2015, there will 1.2 million assessments each year, providing employment opportunities for 3,500 full-time equivalent (FTE) assessors.

Energy efficiency related work, such as EPC assessments and the implementation and monitoring of automatic meter reading equipment, is identified by Symons at WSP as an area displaying signs of growth in the consulting sector.

The exploration and extraction of shale gas and oil is another potential area for job growth for environment professionals. A report for Cuadrilla Resources, the first company to explore shale gas reserves in the UK, draws on the experience of the US shale gas sector and reveals 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 estimates that Cuadrilla’s planned operations in the UK – it has licences to explore shale gas reserves in both Lancashire and Sussex – could create 5,600 FTE jobs between 2016 and 2019, with momentum growing from 2013 onwards.

The renewables sector continues to be a source of employment for environmental practitioners. Scotland’s ambitious plans for renewable energy infrastructure is making the country a hub for related jobs. Research by Scottish Renewables shows that in 2011/12 the industry north of the border was directly supporting more than 10,200 FTE posts in project design, development, operation and throughout the supply chain.

In addition, there are around 750 posts in renewable energy development and research in Scotland’s further education institutions, and some 150 employees involved in renewables in the public sector. Jobs growth is expected to continue as Scotland seeks to supply 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2020.

Forecasts by the Renewable Energy Association indicate that the sector could support around 400,000 UK jobs by 2020, if the country meets its EU target to supply 15% of its energy from renewables by the end of the decade. A 2011 report from RenewableUK identified roles the offshore wind sector was already struggling to recruit. Ecologist, environmental consultant, environmental impact assessor, geophysical surveyor, noise assessor and ornithologist were all roles listed as hard to fill.

Manufacturing and waste

Manufacturers and the waste industry, which have traditionally employed environment professionals in compliance roles, are likely to remain important sources of employment for practitioners.

The latest labour outlook from the CIPD confirms that the proportion of manufacturing employers expecting to increase staff levels is higher at the start of 2013 than in October 2012.

The manufacturing body, EEF, reported in November 2012 that 55% of the companies polled in its skills survey expect employee numbers to increase in the next two years.

It also highlighted that an increasing number of skilled professionals in the sector are set to retire, potentially providing opportunities for younger workers. In addition, almost four in five firms reported recruitment problems, due to lack of technical skills and experience, as well as a lack of applicants.

The waste management sector meanwhile, is expected to generate up to 84,000 new jobs directly and indirectly (including construction) by the end of the decade, according to a report published in April 2012 by waste company SITA. It says many of the jobs would be in energy-from-waste or resource-recovery facilities, and will generally require higher levels of skills than traditional waste facilities.

Planning and construction

As revealed by Environment Analyst’s research, EIA and sustainable development were top areas for generating income for consultancies in 2011 – with revenue increasing by 13.8% to £188 million.

The upsurge in EIA during 2011, following two years of decline, appears to be continuing. Symons at WSP agrees that EIA is a robust area of growth for environmental consultancies. This observation is supported by other firms. Enviros, the environmental consulting arm of global engineering, sciences and project delivery firm SKM, for example is also reporting growth in planning-related work, particularly EIA.

Enviros strategy manager Nigel Clark says the amount of impact assessment work it is engaged in is increasing, but that growth is mainly restricted to infrastructure projects rather than traditional developments, like housing.

The government is increasingly looking to major infrastructure projects to provide a much-needed boost to the economy. In 2011, it published a national infrastructure plan setting out 40 projects the treasury describes as “of national significance and critical for growth”. These are mainly in transport infrastructure, such as roads, rail and airports; electricity generation and distribution; and water, sewerage and flood risk management.

In addition, the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which is currently in parliament, will, claims the government, create thousands of new jobs and generate billions of pounds of new investment in energy projects.

The Bill will make changes to the existing planning process, implementing the recommendations of the Penfold review, which also could provide new opportunities for suitably qualified environment professionals. For example, it will remove overlapping development consent regimes – where multiple permissions from different government agencies are required on top of planning permission.

“People with a CV containing good transport or renewables experience are very attractive to employers at the moment,” Clark says. “There is also high demand for professionals who can demonstrate they can handle large, complex projects.”

Clark advises that environment practitioners increasingly need to combine technical expertise with excellent project management.

Mixed picture

The UK labour market continues to perform counter to projections. At the start of the recession, the unemployment rate was expected to reach 10%, but that has not happened and employment levels have remained relatively high despite little or no economic growth since 2008.

Some sectors are faring better than others, however. Public sector employment, for example, has been hit hard by the government’s deficit reduction policies. Between September 2011 and September 2012, the number of people employed in the public sector fell by 324,000. And, in a forecast that accompanied the chancellor’s 2012 autumn statement, the office of budget responsibility predicted that job losses in the public sector would total 1.2 million by March 2018.

By contrast, private sector employment in the 12 months to September 2012 increased by 823,000. Much of that job creation is temporary; a trend that is likely to continue. The CIPD survey results from February indicate continued strong employer interest in temporary employment options, with 29% of new recruits in the first quarter of 2013 expected to have a temporary status.

For environment professionals seeking employment or a fresh challenge, there are positive signs that more job opportunities are emerging. Plans for renewing and upgrading energy and transport infrastructure should provide more planning-related jobs for qualified practitioners, while more roles are likely to be created in manufacturing and waste management.

Read the full 2013 pracitioner survey results:

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