David Kirkham, chief executive of low carbon sector skills organisation, Employer First, reviews the implications of the Conservative election victory for recruitment in the environment sector.
If you are a candidate with a good background in science, technology or engineering education, now is undoubtedly a good time to be looking to apply for jobs in the environmental sector. However there are some pitfalls to avoid and it is important to be aware of changes in the recruitment and training landscape as a result of the recent Conservative election victory.
Those who, like me, spend their lives helping environmental sector employers recruit and train staff to maintain their company skills portfolios, are acutely aware of the impending skills gaps in the sector, particularly for the so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). We are constantly providing advice to companies who realise that their STEM skilled staff are typically in their 50s and 60s and are looking to plan for the future when these individuals move into retirement.
If you are someone with good and up-to-date STEM skills aged in your 30s and 40s the landscape is very good for you, but for the environmental sector just be sure that your skills are being kept up-to-date. The sector is characterised by rapidly changing technologies and it is easy to be left behind if you don’t keep moving forward with your training.
If you are younger, particularly if you are under 25, then you are in the age group that the government is keen to train to help tackle the skills gap.
During the election all the political parties were united in underlining the importance of apprenticeships and the government is now committed to creating 3 million more apprenticeships over the next five years. Be aware, however, that the numbers here are so great that there is a danger of apprenticeships being supply driven, providers finding and processing apprenticeships but without reconciling their offering with the needs and technical demands of industry. Also be aware that existing apprenticeship frameworks may not cover recent technologies within the environmental sector, for example an Electrotechnical apprenticeship framework doesn’t specifically cover Solar PV, a Heating and Ventilation framework doesn’t cover Biomass or Solar Thermal, while a Sustainable Resource Management framework only covers anaerobic digestion at an advanced level, but not in the standard apprenticeship. Be careful that an apprenticeship delivers what you need.
If you are looking for qualifications that will lead to jobs in the environmental sector it’s worth exploring the alternative options that were beginning to be developed under the coalition and will expand further under the new government. If you are still in secondary education, take a look at the University Technical Colleges, there was a manifesto promise to ensure that there was one near every major city. For those leaving school with good A Levels in STEM subjects, the new Degree Apprenticeships may be a good option; candidates will have the academic rigour of a degree course but the sector focus and work experience associated with an apprenticeship.
There is good support for training for STEM skills in the environmental sector, particularly for people under 25, but the landscape is fast developing and you need to choose your route carefully. Research the options and make sure that what is being offered is genuinely valued by employers in the sector.
For more information about Employer First visit www.employerfirst.co.uk