Practitioners' survey 2017 - qualifications, roles and job satisfaction

9th March 2017

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  • Skills ,
  • CPD ,
  • Qualifications ,
  • Training


Matthew Arnold

Members' levels of qualification and experience

Snapshot of a profession

Continuing professional development (CPD) is crucial in keeping environment and sustainability professionals up to date and enabling them to thrive and adapt. Given the mix of specialist knowledge and transferable skills required of environment and sustainability professionals, members tend to be highly qualified and have careers that are rich in their diversity, while being supported by the IEMA skills map.

Almost two-thirds (61%) have gained a postgraduate qualification, most commonly a master’s degree, while 4% have completed a doctorate. Those working in environment and sustainability have studied a variety of subjects, from theology to metallurgy, although the most common area is environment or earth sciences.

Geography and engineering or architecture are also very popular. Of those who studied for a second academic qualification (such as a master’s), 33% did not take a break after their first degree. At the other end of the scale, 21% returned to study at least seven years after their initial qualification. Understandably, second qualifications tend to be more specific to the environmental and sustainability discipline, with 66% either studying environmental management/assessment or another related subject. Some undertake a qualification in business studies or law at this stage.

The survey reveals that 41% perform a practitioner role; 56% have reached management or leadership positions; and 3% are starting out in an entry-level role.

IEMA members are likely to have significant work experience, with a median ten years spent in an environment or sustainability role. Although the majority of participants remained in their current job role during 2016, 17% switched to a more senior position, either as an internal promotion or by moving to a different employer. A further 13% moved sideways.

This job mobility is also demonstrated by the fact that almost one-third of respondents consider themselves to be ‘career changers’, having moved into environment and sustainability as a second career. Fully 80% of these practitioners are satisfied or very satisfied with their move. The main reason given for the change is a personal interest in environment and sustainability issues, which may explain the high levels of motivation among this group.

More generally, job satisfaction is high, with 69% either satisfied or very satisfied with their role, with just 6% expressing dissatisfaction.

When asked what advice they might give to someone wanting to move into an environment or sustainability career, the number one tip is to volunteer or undertake an industry internship. Having a relevant degree was important, as well as thinking about how to make the most of transferable skills and seeking mentoring opportunities.

Professional development

The majority (89%) of IEMA members undertook CPD activities in 2016. Moreover, only 1% reported that their main reason for doing so was because their employer required them to. The most common motivation (cited by 48% of respondents) was to develop knowledge and skills for their role.

One group of professionals that can find it difficult to prioritise CPD is the self-employed. Nevertheless, 81% of respondents undertook some during 2016. Unlike employees, they usually pay the costs themselves, although 22% of self-employed members said an employer had paid. Overall, around half of all respondents undertaking CPD said their employer had funded it, while for 27% it was free. A further 15% said they had paid, while 8% had shared the cost with their employer.

One development that has made CPD more accessible for self-employed and part-time workers has been the growth in online learning, such as webinars. Although reading the environmentalist (86%) and other key materials (68%) top the list of the CPD undertaken by respondents, the popularity of IEMA webinars is close behind (62%). There is also a relatively high level of access to in-house training. Whereas most surveys, such as Cardiff University’s Skills and Employment Survey, show the volume of workplace training declining in recent years, the IEMA practitioners' survey found that 47% had taken part in in-house training in 2016, while 37% had attended another type of training course.

CPD benefits both the individual and their organisation, a factor to bear in mind as skills shortages look to loom large in 2017. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation’s JobsOutlook survey in December 2016 found that half of employers were anticipating a shortage of suitable candidates for at least some permanent roles this year. More positively, the practitioners’ survey reports that 56% of respondents agree that CPD helps their organisation to fill skills gaps. The ability to train or mentor other staff (28%) is also reported as a direct benefit, while other organisational impacts include boosting environmental performance (24%) and improving organisational reputation (22%).

The benefits of CPD are not always straightforward to quantify, however, with 13% of individuals unable to report a specific advantage. This supports the case for ensuring that members use the IEMA skills and benefits maps, and CPD tools to the full to ensure that their learning is targeted to support their career and role objectives. Lastly, there are thought to be some tangible financial benefits for employers that invest in CPD. Of the one in ten practitioners who reported saving their organisation money, 76% reported success in reducing their employer’s overheads, while 15% enabled taxation reduction.

In June 2016, IEMA unveiled its revised skills map. It embeds sustainability into all members’ career paths and covers three key areas: core knowledge – fundamental knowledge and understanding of sustainability and how it translate in a business context; depth of knowledge in a technical discipline – including understanding of key policy and legislation and knowledge of tools, techniques and systems; and working in environment and sustainability – including communication, leadership for change, and project and programme management skills.

Survey methodology

The results of the 2017 IEMA practitioners’ survey are based on data provided by 1,451 individual members. The online survey was carried out between the end of December 2016 and 20 January 2017 and asked members about their pay and career experience over the 2016 calendar year.

The sample broadly reflects the spectrum of IEMA membership type, with 4% Graduates, 17% Affiliates and 9% Associate members. The largest group is in the new operational grade of Practitioner, while one in five has gained full membership status (MIEMA) and 2% are IEMA Fellows. Members also hold a range of additional licences or accreditations, such as membership of GACSO, the Global Association of Corporate Sustainability Officers (3%), which is part of IEMA, or Chartered Environmentalist (6%) status.

By sector, almost half of the respondents work in business or industry roles. Some 31% work in consultancy, usually environmental or sustainability organisations, but also engineering, health and safety or management consultancies. A further 16% work in public services, while much smaller proportions are in academia or research (3%) or the third sector (2%).

More than half (54%) work for large organisations with more than 1,000 employees, while 17% work for employers with between 251 and 1,000 staff. A further 14% work for medium-sized employers (with between 50 and 250 staff) and the remaining 15% are at small organisations (fewer than 50 staff) or start-ups or operate as sole traders.

Our analysis of pay rates uses base pay data, excluding overtime, bonuses or other elements of variable pay. Most headline findings use both the mean, or average, and the median, or midpoint in the range of values. Where only one figure is shown the median is used. The Office for National Statistics considers this to be the more accurate measure of average earnings because it reduces the impact of very high or very low figures.

Because the questionnaire was broadened from looking solely at the salaries of working professionals, this year all members of all grades, including Students, were invited to participate.

Practitioners' survey 2017 - the highlights

Practitioners' survey 2017: salaries


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