Top tips for future environmentalists

14th January 2013

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Looking for your first job in the environment profession or advice on how to further your fledgling career? IEMA asks the finalists of the 2012 graduate award to share the secrets of their success after completing their university studies

Last month, IEMA presented its 2012 graduate award – sponsored by commercial property company Land Securities – to Lorna Pilbin from British Gypsum. Recognised for her professionalism, dedication and ability to lead, Pilbin received her £1,000 prize, trophy and one year’s graduate membership to IEMA at the Edie sustainability leaders awards in London. Lucy Barrett and Hayley Jewitt were also presented with their runners-up awards and prizes of £500 each by IEMA’s chief executive Jan Chmiel and Neil Pennell, head of sustainability and engineering at Land Securities.

The IEMA graduate award is presented annually to emerging environmental talent, in recognition of their important role in developing the green economy. Specifically, the judges look for individuals who are doing more than just their day-to-day job. They look for graduates that have achieved something out of the ordinary, with measurable results, and can produce evidence of providing leadership in their organisation. Pilbin, Barrett and Jewitt have achieved all these objectives and are making a real success of their first roles in the environment profession.

The judges said that Pilbin, for example, had effectively engaged colleagues and stakeholders to make change happen. They described Jewitt’s leadership, in chairing focus groups and mentoring undergraduates, as “inspiring”, and said the methods adopted by Barrett at Stockport Homes to engage residents in a waste segregation and reduction scheme were “remarkable”.

So, what advice have Pilbin, Barrett and Jewitt got for people moving into the profession? Here, they offer career tips to readers of the environmentalist who are aiming to land their first environmental role, either as a recent graduate or following a career change.

Winner – Lorna Pilbin

Job title: Environmental assistant

Organisation: British Gypsum

University course: BSc in environmental science, University of Plymouth

Background: Pilbin joined British Gypsum as a full-time member of staff after gaining work experience at the company during her gap year. She was awarded the 2012 IEMA graduate award following her successful work in developing and rolling out a company-wide water use policy.

Lorna’s advice:

Lay your stepping stones early

The summer between your first and second years at university is a good time to start making contact with companies regarding employment and work experience. I researched lots of firms and their graduate schemes, and used my gap year to build experience. Working for British Gypsum during my gap year meant I was able to return there each summer and gain more experience for my CV. I found essential for finding out about potential roles.

Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate

The environment is ever changing and you have to stay abreast of new developments. Since graduating, I have passed the IEMA Associate entry exam, which has enabled me to demonstrate that I have broad knowledge and understanding of environment management. I have also started volunteering and have embarked on a master’s degree in environmental decision making with the Open University – all of which will equip me with skills that I can apply in future roles. IEMA’s environmental skills map has proved very useful and is a fantastic tool for environment professionals. My line manager used it in working through to become a chartered environmentalist.

Runner up – Lucy Barrett

Job title: Environment management system assistant

Organisation: Stockport Homes

University course: MSc in environmental management and sustainable development, Manchester Metropolitan University

Background: Barrett proved so successful in her first environmental role at Stockport Homes that her manager applied to have her six-month contract extended to a year.

Lucy’s advice:

Embrace change and push yourself

Since I have been working at Stockport Homes, I have focused on developing key business skills. I have pushed myself to carry out a number of presentations to colleagues and other stakeholders – taking me out of my comfort zone. As a result, I’ve become more confident at public speaking, which is essential when you are trying to build engagement. While studying, I also volunteered at Manchester Metropolitan University’s environmental and geographical society. I was subsequently elected its chair, which helped me to develop my leadership, communication and event organisation skills.

Tailor your job applications

There is literally no limit to the effort you can and should put in when applying for a new job role. When searching for jobs, take notice of the company that is recruiting, research what they do and what they need, then tailor your application accordingly. Earthworks is a useful website if you are interested in working abroad. Visiting websites like the environmental legislation update service and Wrap, and reading the environmentalist are great ways to stay up to date and to find out about case studies of environmental projects.

Runner up – Hayley Jewitt

Job title: Graduate environmental advisor

Organisation: Laing O’Rourke

University course: BA in environmental management, University of Manchester

Background: Jewitt received her nomination for the graduate award after a three-month work experience placement with the Manchester Metrolink during her degree.

Hayley’s advice:

Work experience really makes a difference

Laing O’Rourke sponsored my degree and I was able to secure that sponsorship after completing an internship with the company. Working as an intern helped me to get a feel for the organisation and make contacts, and gave me a better understanding of the construction industry. The experience really enhanced my academic work, as well as my readiness for a full-time role. It provided a solid insight into the everyday practice of environment management on a large infrastructure project.

Don’t underestimate the value of networking

While studying for my degree and completing my work experience at Manchester Metrolink, I gained a lot from talking to environment professionals from Laing O’Rourke and other organisations about their roles. This proved vital to the progression of my career as it gave me unrivalled insight into what to expect from the profession. It also allowed me to learn from their experiences and I could ask them for career guidance. Joining professional associations and networks like IEMA and 2degrees has also proved a worthwhile investment, as you not only gain access to all of the resources, events and publications they offer, but also a group of like-minded professionals.

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