Practitioners' survey 2017: salaries

9th March 2017


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Salaries by industry and sector

The pay headline of the practitioners’ survey this year is slow but steady earnings growth. The median annual salary for full-time environment and sustainability professionals stands at £39,000, up by around 2% on £38,180 one year ago. The average or mean salary is £44,008, also up fromlast year’s figure of £43,812.

This headline figure compares favourably to the median of £37,675 recorded for professional occupations in the 2016 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – although it slightly lags behind the national median of £40,627 for science, research, engineering and technology professionals.

The 2017 survey finds that the median annual salary for professionals working in business and industry stands at £41,000 over the 2016 calendar year, compared with £37,750 for colleagues working in consultancy. Pay in the consultancy sector appears to have dipped, although this may be explained largely by sampling variations.

The survey reveals a surprisingly high median salary for respondents from academia and research, which stands at £41,000, level-pegging with corporate roles. It should be noted, however, that this figure is based on a smaller sample than other groups. Likewise, the findings for the third sector should be treated with caution due to the small sample size.

For business and industry roles, the mean salary of £47,207 illustrates the impact of some significantly higher salaries at the top end. By subsector, higher pay rates are most likely to be found in financial and legal services, which has a higher median salary (£49,000) than any other sector this year and a mean of £70,339. For the past few years the top spot has been occupied by the mining and quarrying sector, reflecting high salaries in oil and extraction. But this year the median in this sector has dipped to £42,000 from £52,500, although the mean is the second highest at £60,790.

The lower figures for consultancy salaries this year may be explained partly by the fact that the sample contains a very low proportion of respondents from planning or management consultancies, and these tend to offer higher salaries than engineering and environment/sustainability consultancies (both recording a median £37,000). For the very small group of professionals working for management consultancies, the median salary is £51,000 a year. Consultants fare better in pay terms than employees in the public sector (£35,547), where government-imposed pay restraint continues to bite. Although the public sector does not suffer the skills shortages of engineering or construction, reports of difficulties recruiting specialists or professionals to meet the numerous challenges the services face are increasing.

Overall, median salaries for environment and sustainability professionals have risen by just 2.5% over the past three years.

Salaries by level of IEMA membership

Pay is influenced by a host of factors, but individual skills, knowledge and experience are among the most important in determining salary and potential for pay progression. As in previous years, the 2017 survey finds a clear route to pay progression through the IEMA membership levels.

The median for members who have achieved the status of Fellow (FIEMA), for example, is £70,900, which is around double that of Associate or Affiliate.

For Graduates, headline starting salaries have been static since the economic downturn that began in 2008. When the online HR service XpertHR published its annual survey of graduate starting salaries in August 2016 it found the median – £23,000 in 2016–17 – to have been frozen for the eighth successive year. Unlike XpertHR’s benchmark, the median starting salary of £25,000 for IEMA Graduates has risen by £500 since the 2016 survey. Although the 2% increase in starting salaries for graduates between the 2016 and 2017 surveys mirrors the overall rise in median salaries for practitioners, the relatively small uplift also reflects less demand for university leavers. A survey last year by the Association of Graduate Recruiters revealed an 8% drop in vacancies since the 2015 poll. The number of vacancies had fallen most in construction, retail and engineering, and compared with 13% rise in demand for graduates the previous year.

The steps in salary between membership levels are significant, suggesting that the professional requirements members need to upgrade are well rewarded in salary terms as well as career progression. For those at graduate level, the findings suggest that a pay premium of more than 50% can be achieved by upgrading to the new Practitioner (PIEMA) grade. Likewise, the median salary for those who achieve Full IEMA membership (MIEMA) is 34% higher than the going rate for those at Associate level.

The status of IEMA Fellow, intended to recognise the visionary leadership of the profession, commands a median salary 51% higher than that for Full members. At this level, the range of salaries is much wider depending on sector and individual role, with the mean reaching £85,925. The mean salary for MIEMAs is £53,585, while that for a PIEMA is £41,896.

Changes to salaries by IEMA membership status between 2016 and 2017 reveal that the median salary for a Fellow increased by 4%, from £68,000 to £70,900. Median salaries for Full members have also risen, by just over 3%, from £45,000 to £47,000. In contrast, median salaries for Associate members have declined by 5% since last year's poll, from £37,000 to £35,000.

However, over the past few months many former Associates have upgraded to Practitioner level, which IEMA introduced in June 2016. PIEMA level is described by IEMA as a new stop on the membership journey, and is designed to bridge a perceived gap between Associate and Full membership. IEMA says it demonstrates to employers that the individual is equipped, connected, fully up to date and in touch with learning opportunities that will help them deliver their sustainability programmes. PIEMA is aimed mostly at those working across organisations at an operational level. The 2017 practitioners’ poll shows that a PIEMA earns around 8% more than an Associate.

Salaries by region

Most professional occupations tend to command significantly higher wages in London and the South East than in any other area of the UK, but this does not hold true in the environment and sustainability professional jobs market. Instead, Scotland often occupies some of the top spots in the salary league tables, and this year is no exception.

Although at £40,250 the median salary for practitioners in the South East is slightly above that for the sector as a whole, chart 4 shows that the highest medians by region can be found in Eastern Scotland (£41,650) and the North West (£41,000). With the cost of living so much higher in the South East, however, this does raise questions about affordability for environment and sustainability professionals working in London, for example.

The South West, Midlands and East of England all show a median annual salary that is below the national figure (£39,000). Meanwhile Northern Ireland, which has among the lowest pay levels in the UK according to the 2016 ASHE survey, sits at the bottom of the earnings table this year, with a median annual salary of £30,558.

Changes to salaries - rises and prospects

Pay levels and increases generally across the economy are still suffering the effects of the 2008 downturn, although 2016 was slightly more positive in pay terms due to low inflation and modest pay growth. The economy has been resilient since the EU referendum, with the UK posting the fastest growth rate in the G7 economies last year. Improved global economic conditions have led the Bank of England to upgrade its 2017 growth forecast to 2%, while EEF, the manufacturers’ body, described the outlook for the sector as ‘upbeat’ in its February 2017 monthly briefing. Yet high levels of uncertainty and rising inflation led the Resolution Foundation and others to speculate that rising prices and low productivity will plunge the UK into a further phase of falling earnings in real terms.

The 2017 IEMA survey reveals that 62% of environment and sustainability professionals received an increase to their base pay in 2016 compared with 2015. Pay for 7% decreased, while base salary for a further 31% was unchanged.

Figures for self-employed professionals tell a different story. Almost one in three (30%) were paid less in 2016 than in the previous year, while more saw their base pay stand still (41%) than increase (37%). Becoming self-employed holds many benefits for environmental professionals, such as greater flexibility and work fulfilment, but the findings suggest that it is far tougher for this group to secure yearly pay increases.

Diversity - age and gender

On a national, whole-economy basis, the gender pay gap continues to narrow slowly for full-time employees and was 9.4% in April 2016 for median hourly earnings, the ONS reports. Although this was the smallest since the survey began in 1997, it has shifted relatively little over the past six years.

In contrast, this year’s IEMA survey reveals that the gender pay gap for environment and sustainability professionals is 16.7%, unchanged from last year. The mean gap (based on average earnings of £38,091 for women and £47,503 for men) has narrowed slightly to 20% from 25% in the previous year, however. As the table below illustrates, the gap is much wider than that recorded between 2013 and 2015, when it had been narrowing – as small as 12.5% in 2015.

Some caution should be exercised in making comparisons between the national statistics and the practitioners’ survey because the former are calculated using hourly earnings, not annual salaries. It is also worth noting that neither the official statistics nor the practitioners’ survey results include salaries for part-time workers. Whereas women make up 41% of the overall IEMA suvey sample this year, they account for 78% of the part-time workers responding to the poll.

Nevertheless, the findings should be concerning for the profession in terms of the barriers to women’s progression both in career and pay terms. the environmentalist reported in October on some of the reasons why women seem to be under-represented in parts of the environment and sustainability profession and are generally paid less. The oft-cited reason is that women leave to raise children, and if they return it is to part-time or non-management jobs. Women respondents to the annual IEMA practitioners' survey tend to be younger, when earnings are lowest. This would depress the overall median for women.

The IEMA survey findings corroborate the national picture of a gender pay gap that increases with employee age. One key survey finding is that female, full-time IEMA professionals in the 25–29 age bracket tend to earn more than their male colleagues – with a median annual salary of £30,000 compared with the median of £28,000 for men in the same age group. Yet, from age 30 this gap reverses and widens, with earnings for men in the 55–64 band more than £5,000 a year higher than their female counterparts’.

The gender pay gap is likely to be increasingly in the spotlight from 6 April 2017 when employers with more than 250 staff will be obliged to report their gender pay gap publicly in the form of six specific calculations (there is no obligation to report by occupational group or grade). It is hoped that this transparency will clarify what organisations are doing – or not doing – to remove barriers to progression of women through the pay scale.

Practitioners' survey 2017 - the highlights

Practitioners' survey 2017 - qualifications, roles and job satisfaction

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