Training focus: Mapping the profession

8th June 2013


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  • Training ,
  • CPD ,
  • Qualifications ,
  • Skills



IEMA's skills map is central to the development of the profession. the environmentalist learns how practitioners and organisations are using it

Since the launch of its environmental skills map (ESM) in 2011, IEMA has worked with members, employers, training organisations, universities and other professional bodies to introduce the map to the profession and build awareness of the benefits it offers.

Members should be familiar with the ESM and how the cross-sector framework sets out the competencies employers expect from professionals in environment roles. Individuals using the map are able to develop the knowledge and skills needed to be an effective environment practitioner delivering sustainable business performance.

The ESM is the culmination of several years’ work by IEMA. A key factor underpinning this work is the recognition that individuals require specific environment knowledge but, typically, they also need more generic leadership and management skills to apply that expertise effectively across the business.

IEMA has received positive feedback from members and employers on how they are using the skills map to enhance professional development across environment and sustainability roles. “Having individuals in an organisation with the breadth of knowledge and skills in the map supports decision making that is underpinned by sound environmental knowledge – recognising the opportunities and risks for businesses,” says IEMA’s director of membership strategy and development, Claire Lea.

A blueprint

The skills map informs everything IEMA does to promote its vision for the profession and place environment professionals at the heart of change (see diagram above). It enables the Institute to design programmes to support the development of professionals throughout their careers, and to ensure that organisations have access to skilled, competent environment managers and assessors.

IEMA is currently in the process of broadly mapping three of the ESM’s “role” levels to its core membership levels: operational = Associate; managerial = Full ; and leadership = Fellow.

Aligning the skills map more closely with IEMA’s membership levels will provide individuals with a clear framework to gain new levels of competency in tandem with professional membership.

The process is a symbiotic one, explains Lea: “The competencies help members to fulfil their career aspirations and to achieve higher professional status and qualifications and, because we have taken the standards underpinning the IEMA membership levels and mapped their content onto the first and second layers of the skills map, it is a mutually supportive process.”

The map is designed to support:

  • anyone planning personal development;
  • employers recruiting environment professionals or preparing job descriptions;
  • agencies advising on the recruitment of environment professionals;
  • HR or department heads developing a graduate or management development programme; and
  • organisations planning the development and delivery of environment or sustainability knowledge and skills.

Flexible competency progression

Alignment of the role categories in the skills map with IEMA membership levels will allow some members to attain balanced horizontal and vertical progression across the ESM. However, individuals can enter the skills map at any point according to their competency level and plot their development accordingly. This could mean that their progression follows a diagonal route or focuses on specific competency areas, if that’s what their role or organisation requires.

“For example, a manager could be moving into an environment role with a high level of experience in generic business competencies such as leading change, managing business resilience and influencing behaviour, but with a low level of knowledge in environment issues,” says Lea. “This would place the individual near to the top of the skills map for some of the more general competencies on its right-hand side, and needing to develop his or her technical competencies under ‘knowledge and understanding’ on the other side of the ESM to become a more rounded environment professional.”

Conversely, adds Lea, an environment professional working for a large employer may not need to place as much emphasis on developing his or her communication skills, if the organisation has a dedicated communications function.

Individual progression

The ESM enables environment professionals to see a clear route of the knowledge and skills they require throughout their career, and plan their journey accordingly. “Before we introduced the skills map, there was no firm structure that set out a visible career path for members,” says Lea. “Now, individuals can use the map to assess their competency levels and plan personal and professional development priorities in line with their aspirations.”

There is already anecdotal feedback from IEMA members on how useful they are finding the ESM (see panel below). For example, Sharon Lashley, project consultant at Jayvee Renewables, is using the map to help her to achieve Full IEMA membership by identifying knowledge and skills gaps. Meanwhile, a copy of the map is pinned on the wall at Cambridge Display Technology, allowing health, safety and environmental adviser Adam Wilkinson and his manager to use it to set personal performance targets.

Skills map in action: Russell Grinham

IEMA member Russell Grinham has used the ESM as a benchmark to establish where he ranked across the different competencies and levels in terms of his qualifications, professional experience and training. From this, he identified gaps in his knowledge and skills and decided where to focus future training and development. He rated himself against the competencies using the leadership level and is now prioritising competencies where he feels there is a gap in his skills – the lower the competency level, the higher the priority to identify training or other opportunities to address that particular skill set.

Russell Grinham, assurance advisor, Research Sites Restoration

IEMA has developed a wealth of resources to assist members keen to improve their competencies. These include three planning tools which were distributed with the environmentalist in October, November and December 2012 and are available to download from

  • Development planning – helps individuals assess their knowledge and skills against the ESM.
  • Prioritise your learning – helps users prioritise their learning and development according to the ESM competencies they need to develop.
  • Action plan – helps individuals integrate their ESM assessment with formal appraisal activities and professional development plans, and assess the support they need to achieve their competency goals.

Lea emphasises that the resources available to members wishing to progress in the skills map are not restricted to formal training. Individuals’ achievement of the competencies in the ESM, and attainment of continuing professional development (CPD), could be linked to a range of informal learning opportunities, such as:

  • IEMA briefings, policies and position statements;
  • factsheets and practitioner notes available from;
  • the environmentalist for news, features, legislation updates and best practice;
  • IEMA webinars;
  • environment events and conferences, including regional IEMA events; and
  • publications, research papers and other information published on

The business take

The Institute received extensive input from employers and businesses to help develop the map, and many are putting it to good use (see Balfour Beatty example, below). There are a number of ways in which organisations can use the ESM, for example, to: map existing environment skills against the competencies; identify gaps in the knowledge and skills of the organisation; develop job profiles for environment professionals; perform a training needs analysis; and support the uptake of IEMA membership and promote professionalism.

“As well as using the map to plan staff development and recruitment, organisations can use it strategically. For instance, it can be used to identify future needs and demands in the external environment that link to skills,” says Lea. “The skills map will help organisations to build their environment and sustainability competencies for the future.”

Skills map in action: Balfour Beatty

Following engagement with IEMA, global infrastructure firm Balfour Beatty developed the environmental skills map (EMS) to reflect the group’s sustainability strategy, says Bekir Andrews, group sustainability manager. The ESM has been aligned to Balfour Beatty’s 2020 sustainability vision and roadmap, and the group has conducted a detailed assessment of the knowledge and skill sets required for different job roles in the group. The skills map also forms an important element of the group’s skills and leadership development frameworks.

With more than 130 IEMA sustainability practitioners in a range of roles, Balfour Beatty has used the ESM to state the key requirements of these roles to promote consistency in the recruitment and development of skills in the business. Initially, the sustainability group conducted a review of all the job descriptions and specifications for its different environment and sustainability roles. It then compared this information with the skills map and refined the framework so that it was applicable to the different levels of seniority and types of role.

The ESM has benefited Balfour Beatty by:

  • supporting the recruitment of the right skills for the business;
  • promoting the professional development of the company’s sustainability practitioners;
  • helping the group to develop the right skills and experience in its people and supporting their career development; and
  • helping the group to achieve its sustainability goals.

An education

Aside from professionals and organisations, the other core groups working with IEMA to apply the skills map are training providers and universities.

IEMA has an approved provider network of universities and they are using the ESM in a variety of ways, such as to benchmark course provision; to support student career planning and development; and to enhance the employability of graduates (see University of Leeds example, below).

“The skills map provides an ideal resource to develop students’ competencies so that they are ready for the workplace,” says Lea. “For example, graduates are doing work placements that develop their competencies at the operational level.”

Training providers, meanwhile, are developing appropriate courses to help professionals acquire knowledge and skills, particularly where there are gaps in existing provision – for example, at the leadership competency level. IEMA is working in partnership with more than 90 approved training providers to ensure that professionals can access the training they need to progress within the skills map.

A supporting role

IEMA’s professional standards committee, which has been overseeing the development of the ESM, has just signed off on a second layer of learning outcomes to support the skills map (see figure below). “When we launched the ESM in 2011, we always intended to provide more information behind each competency box that defined the practical learning outcomes required,” explains Lea. “This is to help individuals really understand the knowledge and skills they need to deliver change in organisations.”

The “top” layer of the IEMA skills map sets out the four main levels of competency (non-graduate/graduate, operational, managerial and leadership) – plus a “specialist” level – and there are 14 competencies in each level, split across five broad categories: knowledge and understanding; analytical thinking; communication; sustainable practice; and leadership for change.

This overarching layer is static and will only change following horizon scanning by IEMA around every five years to assess wider changes in the sustainable business agenda. The second, supporting layer of the ESM is more fluid and explains in detail what an environment professional needs to understand, or demonstrate, to achieve each competency at a relevant level.

For example, under the competency heading “fundamental environmental and sustainability principles” on the top layer of the map, a non-graduate/graduate level environment professional is expected to “understand environmental and sustainability principles”. The second layer of the ESM then builds on this and includes a list of learning outcomes outlining exactly what the individual needs to know and understand for this competency. The list includes:

  • the key principles underpinning the earth’s natural cycles;
  • major ecological processes and systems;
  • how human interventions might impact upon ecological systems and natural cycles;
  • the importance of biodiversity; and
  • the causes and effects of climate change.

By comparison, the top ESM layer says that an individual at the managerial level must be able to “explain environmental and sustainability principles and their relationship with organisations”. The second layer of the map (see above) confirms that competent managers must be able to describe in detail the:

  • crucial importance of maintaining and enhancing natural cycles and biodiversity in achieving sustainability;
  • relationship between sustainability, sustainable development and corporate responsibility;
  • interdisciplinary nature of environmental issues;
  • link between natural resource degradation, ecosystems, habitat destruction and extinction of species; and
  • ways to identify and anticipate trends.

The second layer of the skills map has been developed following extensive consultation between IEMA and employers, training providers and other industry bodies. Lea says the second layer represents the dynamic part of the framework and, once launched, will be updated on an ongoing basis to reflect changes to legislation and business practices.

“We see IEMA members as change agents,” she says. “The second layer of the skills map enables us to respond very quickly to the expectations on practitioners by placing them at the heart of the rapidly changing sustainable business agenda.”

Skills map in action: University of Leeds

The University of Leeds is using the environmental skills map (ESM) in a number of ways, reports Louise Ellis, head of sustainability. “The skills map is a very helpful tool, both in terms of the university’s course provision and for students’ early career planning,” she comments.

The university runs an MSc course in sustainability and the launch of the skills map provided Ellis and her academic colleagues with the opportunity to review the course in the light of the competencies listed. As she explains: “We mapped the course programme onto the ESM to help inform the learning objectives of students, which was a very informative process.”

Students completing the MSc are granted Graduate IEMA membership, and the skills map helps them to plan their career pathway into sustainability roles, as well as their progression to the “operational” skills level. “The map is the right tool to help students assess their position in the marketplace,” adds Ellis.

She believes that one of the major benefits of the skills map is in improving the employability of students: “From an early career perspective, the map is proving to be a tangible support in helping students and graduates to develop a rounded skills portfolio – employers need sustainability graduates to have business acumen, as well as the technical skills and knowledge to make an impact in the workplace.”

It is not just those studying for a sustainability qualification at the university who are benefitting from the skills map, however. Ellis says that during national Climate Week in March 2013, the university’s sustainability team pitched a tent hosting a career planning event for students. “The skills map was very helpful in showing students how they could pursue a career in sustainability,” she says. “It helped many to appreciate how broad the profession is and it generated a lot of interest both from students on sustainability courses and on other programmes. For example, engineering students could consult the skills map, plot their competency levels and assess what skills and knowledge they would need to pursue an environment career.”

Students aside, the skills map will also be used to direct the professional and personal development of the sustainability team at the University of Leeds, and support Ellis as she develops her professional status with IEMA.


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