ENDS spoke to environmental recruitment consultants JSM Associates and Allen & York about key recruitment trends facing the sector this year and how these developments could affect career aspirations
Skills in highest demand
Are you looking for a new environment job this year? One strategy for success is to look at the skills in highest demand and match these with your skillset to identify the best opportunities for you.
According to the latest data from ENDSjobsearch, the highest number of vacancies so far in January 2017 are within environmental management, ecology and conservation, environmental impact assessment, sustainability and air pollution.*
Jeremy Money, managing director of JSM Associates, is encouraging: “With the amount of significant infrastructure projects currently in progress and being proposed, environmental impact assessment (EIA) is very highly sought after, as well as the various specialist chapters within the EIA such as ecology, noise and air quality.
“The demand for these specialist areas tend to be focused around environmental professionals with five to 10 years’ experience. Other areas experiencing a high demand include due diligence, contaminated land, land quality assessment and sustainability.”
Chris Saunby, divisional manager for environment, social and sustainability at Allen & York, is finding ecology and geotechnical engineering to be the two hottest areas for job prospects. He comments: “The demand for geotechnical engineers is largely being fuelled by HS2 but candidates are in very short supply, so if you are looking for this type of role and have the right skillset you can look forward to some exciting opportunities this year.”
Highest paid roles
Data from ENDSjobsearch shows the £30,000-£40,000 per annum salary band to be the most prominent in terms of the number of vacancies as well as applications.
Allen & York is finding that the highest paying consultancy roles tend to be in fields where there are opportunities to work in the industry as well, as consultancies are often compelled to pay higher salaries in order to compete.
Saunby comments: “Geotechnical engineering is one of the highest paying roles, from graduate level through to technical director level. That said, the job carries with it a high human risk factor. Other niche areas such as toxicology are also among the highest paid.”
Money adds: “Roles requiring between five and ten years of experience have seen the largest salary increase. Candidates at this level have been enjoying the highest percentage wage increase and generating the highest amount of offers from clients.”
According to JSM Associates, the greatest concentration of jobs has been in the South East, Midlands and North West, largely due to significant infrastructure projects in these regions.
Allen & York also see London and the South West as the core employment hubs for the industry. They are seeing less drive to recruit in the North West and put this down to the Northern powerhouse having not taken off as much as expected.
Saunby comments: “What we are seeing is with the amount of mergers and acquisitions over the last two years, the market has opened up for small to medium sized consultancies which tend to start up in unusual locations where the owners happen to live, so there are more opportunities arising outside of city hubs such as Peterborough, Leicestershire and Yorkshire.”
As well as looking for work in different parts of the UK, there are also some international opportunities worth considering if you want to broaden your horizons and experience working in another country.
Allen & York operates internationally and has placed many candidates in Australia and the Middle East where many environmentalists are now returning from to the UK. According to Saunby, whilst the Middle East market has plateaued a little, it is now stabilising and some opportunities are still available there.
He adds: “The North American market is starting to grow again and this territory makes up a huge proportion of the global consultancy market. We also do a lot of international project work in Africa and Asia, which are starting to recover from the double whammy of mining and oil and gas markets being hit.”
Biggest career opportunities in the sector
According to JSM Associates, nationally significant Infrastructure projects such as HS2, Crossrail 2 and Hinkley Point C, as well as multiple highway schemes, make up some of the biggest career opportunities for the sector this year.
Allen & York is seeing a growing demand for environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and social responsible investment. Saunby comments: “Mega infrastructure projects are being driven by the likes of HS2 and the new Heathrow runway - these are real game changers for the consultancy across the board from EIA to air quality, noise, contaminated land, geotechnical engineering and ecology.
“There are many tiers to these projects and businesses are already gearing up for what could be a big recruitment drive, especially if they get HS2 Tier 2 status. The areas of cultural heritage and waste will also increase in demand, largely due to legislation.”
Biggest challenges recruiters are facing
From skills shortages to Brexit, recruiters face a number of challenges that candidates need to be aware of.
Some of the biggest challenges for JSM Associates include insufficient volume of suitable talent matching the requirements of the jobs available. The job market is very buoyant currently and there are not enough experienced candidates to fill the roles. As soon as the big bids are awarded, there will be an even greater demand.
Allen & York says it’s extremely busy, which presents an advantage as they now have the best balance of vacancies and candidates than they’ve had for many years. As Saunby comments: “Since I joined Allen & York in 2004 I have never seen a busier market for recruiting ecologists over the winter as I have in late 2016.
“There is a good professional body of ecologists out there but competition for this talent is fierce. Ecologists are more in tune with the culture of an organisation than many other environmental professionals so businesses need to look at how they’re selling themselves to candidates.”
The future outlook for environment jobs
Saunby sees the recent mergers and acquisitions as a direct sign of the industry maturing, as many other industries have had to do in the past. He predicts a positive outlook for environment jobs, albeit with some challenges for recruiters.
Saunby comments: “The majority of CEOs now regard environment and sustainability a lot more highly than they would have ten years ago and the environmental consultancy sector is forecast to keep growing in the next few years.
“There is a gap in the market for people with around five years’ experience due to the minimal graduate opportunities available since 2008 but this should start to shift as business realise the need to future proof.
“The need to embrace big data will increase to help take away the ambiguity that has held sustainability back in the past and provide evidence to drive decision making within CSR and issues around climate change.”
Despite Brexit, JSM Associates predicts that legislation is going to largely remain unchanged this year. Money concludes: “Demand for quality candidates will still be high as any development will need to have sustainability as one of its core values.
“With the skill shortages ongoing there is even more significance for companies to offer more than just an increase in salary. People are looking for quality of life, interesting projects, company culture and values.”
So if you’re looking to progress your career this year, there are some exciting opportunities to pursue throughout the UK and overseas in a range of key sectors - and in many cases you should expect some increased perks aside from monetary remuneration.
*ENDSjobsearch data for 1-18 January 2017