Training focus: Stepping up the standard

13th December 2013


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Tony Finazzi

IEMA outlines forthcoming changes to the requirements for Full membership

When IEMA welcomed its thousandth current Full member in August 2013, it was testament not only to the rapid development of the profession, but also the extent to which environment professionals are now operating at senior management levels.

“Members wanting to move up within their businesses are increasingly looking for ways to differentiate themselves,” says Josh Fothergill, IEMA’s acting head of professional standards. “For those wanting a more managerial role, where they can influence their organisation’s strategic direction, then Full membership is the way forward.”

Bearing this in mind, the Institute is about to revise its Full membership standard to ensure it reflects the profession’s evolution, and is also clear and accessible to anyone planning to take the next step. Specifically, the changes, which take effect from 31 March 2014, will streamline the eligibility criteria, make the application and assessment process simpler and more convenient, and align the process fully with that of registering for Chartered environmentalist (CEnv) status.

One of the drivers for the revision is IEMA’s commitment to create links between its professional standards and its environmental skills map. The map, which summarises the knowledge and skills environment and sustainability professionals need as they progress through their careers, consists of five levels, starting at the graduate level, through operational and specialist roles, and on to managerial and leadership positions.

“Having already aligned Associate membership to the operational level of the skills map, what we’re doing now is providing signposting to progress from Associate to Full membership using the map as a tool,” explains Fothergill. “Alongside this, the revision forms part of the pledge by the professional standards committee at IEMA to keep all of the Institute’s standards under regular review to ensure they remain robust.”

Voting with their feet

Under the existing system, candidates can either apply for Full membership (and use the suffix MIEMA), or make a dual application, which encompasses Full IEMA membership and CEnv status. “We’ve seen significant growth in the numbers applying for Full membership in 2013,” says Fothergill, “accompanied by an increase in the proportion making a dual application.”

In 2011 and 2012, there was roughly a 50-50 split between the two, but this has shifted in the past year to 70% of candidates making a dual application, and just 30% simply upgrading to Full status. This shift, Fothergill believes, has been driven by changes to the CEnv requirements, which took effect from 1 January 2013. “CEnv moved closer to the IEMA Full standard, so it became easier to make a dual application,” he notes.

Under the revised, streamlined system, whenever a candidate passes the Full assessment they will also automatically have satisfied CEnv requirements. “What we’re effectively doing now is merging the two processes, and making everything much clearer to applicants,” explains Fothergill. “Members are voting with their feet anyway and that’s a trend we’re happy to encourage.”

The existing application process offers candidates six possible routes or options for upgrading their IEMA membership, depending on their current status and whether they wish to go for Full or dual membership. These will be reduced to two – a single route for Affiliates and above, and one for Full members who want to add CEnv. The eligibility criteria (see panel, above) will come down to:

  • IEMA membership (minimum Affiliate);
  • possession of a relevant master’s degree (or demonstration of equivalent knowledge); and
  • demonstration of how the applicant complies with the standard’s competencies.

All references to “minimum years of practical experience” will be removed. “People come into the profession from many different backgrounds,” says Fothergill. “Some may have had 10, 15 or 20 years in other professions and will have acquired leadership and communication competencies there.”

He stresses that this change is not lowering a requirement; it’s about making the standard accessible for people with the requisite skills. And, by better aligning requirements with the CEnv process, the whole approach becomes simpler, cleaner and clearer. “People no longer need to be thinking: ‘What route am I coming from?’ Or: ‘Would it better to get this before I get that?’” says Fothergill.

Why ask?

The new streamlined application and assessment formats have also been simplified, and will require candidates to submit a shorter, standardised list of documents (see panel, above). “We wanted people to understand why they’re being asked for certain things,” says Fothergill. To this end, IEMA is removing several redundant requirements.

“We’re no longer asking for evidence of 80 hours’ training, which is currently required from those with a non-Associate background,” he explains. “Ultimately, they’re all going through the same peer assessment against the same competencies, so it’s for them to prove their ability to meet those during that process.”

Applicants will also no longer need to submit a job description; and the option to include an organisation chart (showing where they sit in their business) and their firm’s environmental policy are also being removed. “The CV and supporting paper should cover these aspects where they’re relevant anyway,” stresses Fothergill.

The key piece of documentation will be a 2,000-word paper showing how the applicant’s experience meets the competency requirements. The existing process calls for non-Associate members to prepare 2,000 words and all other applicants 1,000 words, regardless of whether they are applying for Full or dual membership.

“We’ve decided to standardise to 2,000 words,” says Fothergill. “CEnv moved from 4,000 to 1,000 words early in 2013, but what we’ve found, speaking to members and assessors, is that it can be hard, in just 1,000 words, to demonstrate fully how you meet the competencies. We felt that 1,000 words was too restrictive, whereas 2,000 words gave people more room to express themselves, without running the risk of missing key information or spending too much time condensing information.”

Online sustainability

Once applications are in, the next stage is assessment. Under the existing process for Full membership, candidates undergo a 40–60-minute telephone interview, while anyone putting in a dual application (under the rules put in place by SocEnv – the Society for the Environment) has a face-to-face interview lasting up to 90 minutes.

From 31 March 2014, the peer interview will be simplified so that all candidates, by default, are interviewed online by two assessors for between 45–75 minutes. The option for an “in-room” interview will remain, but these are likely to take place at focused “assessment centres” on just a few dates each year.

“Previously under SocEnv’s rules, any online interview had to be individually signed off by the society’s chief executive,” explains Fothergill. A default online interview process under such terms would have created a huge administrative burden, so IEMA successfully negotiated an amendment, which means that SocEnv can now sign off licensed bodies, including the Institute, to run the interviews online.

As with the eligibility and assessment changes, the rationale behind the new interview process is to make things more convenient and easier to access. Members can now do the interview at home or work, and fit it around other commitments.

“It’s also about sustainability and keeping to the principles that define our organisation and our members,” says Fothergill. Currently, 70% of applicants applying for dual membership are required to travel from all over the UK and beyond to their interviews in London and Manchester. The new approach is expected to save at least 25,000 miles of travel a year by assessors and candidates.

Keeping competent

The standard will also see changes in the expected competencies for Full membership. These will be published on IEMA’s website in January 2014. Instead of the existing three broad areas – knowledge and understanding; application of knowledge and understanding; and communication skills – the revised standard will encompass eight competencies (see below).

“The new layout reflects what people expect a standard to look like,” explains Fothergill. “In design, it resembles the document developed for the Associate membership standard and the core specifications set for the Associate courses.” While the competencies have been developed, the revision is more about clarifying the depth and breadth of the standard, rather than about changing expectations in any fundamental way.

“It’s very important that the standard reflects the changing role of the profession, and aligns to the skill set needed,” concludes Fothergill. “Increasingly, environment professionals are not just assessing themselves against other environment professionals, but against other senior people in an organisation and its supply chain. The new, overarching competencies reflect this more effectively than the older set – showing that a Full member can deliver on wider business objectives and help produce more sustainable outcomes.”

The changes to Full membership take effect from 31 March 2014, and although applications under the existing framework will be taken for the first three months of next year, IEMA is encouraging anyone considering the move to Full membership to wait for the new regime.

The revised competencies will be published in full on in January, and supporting materials, including guidance documents, webinars and webcasts, will begin appearing the following month. If you want to be kept up to date on developments contact: [email protected].

Revised competencies

The revised Full member competencies, applicable from 31 March 2014, indicate that an applicant should:

  • be able to explain fundamental environmental and sustainability principles and their relationship with businesses and other organisations;
  • understand environmental and sustainability strategies, policies and legislation insofar as they relate to their area of professional activity;
  • be able to critically analyse, interpret and report environmental data and information to inform sustainable decision making and provide advice;
  • identify and analyse problems and opportunities from an environmental perspective to develop and deliver sustainable solutions;
  • use communication to drive effective environmental and sustainable business practices;
  • embed sustainable thinking in organisations insofar as it relates to their area of professional activity;
  • manage and deliver environmental improvements and improve resilience; and
  • educate, influence, persuade and challenge others to lead and promote sustainability.

Applying for Full membership standard from 31 March 2014


applicants must have

  • Membership of IEMA – Affiliate membership as a minimum
  • A relevant master’s degree/the ability to demonstrate the equivalent level of knowledge
  • Sufficient knowledge and practical experience to demonstrate how they meet the standard


key documents required

  • A paper demonstrating how the applicant meets the Full membership standard (maximum: 2,000 words)
  • A current CV (maximum: four sides)
  • A copy of their master’s certificate/a supplementary paper to demonstrate the equivalent level of knowledge (maximum: 500 words)


peer interview

  • Held online as a face-to-face interview
  • Conducted by two members of IEMA’s Full and CEnv assessor panel
  • 45–75 minutes in length


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