An Honest Account of Starting A Career in The Environmental Sector


When everyone is young, they love animals and get involved with saving the planet. Over time, this ambition dwindles but stays with some of those who want to have a career working outside or with nature. After school there are so many courses which put a positive outlook on the range off different careers which can be attained after completing a course like zoology, ecology or wildlife management. But what is the reality after university?

Before the credit crunch the environmental sector was booming. Clean energy was in which created large projects for wind turbines, dams and off shore power centres. The money was flowing in and the industry was doing very well. But when the credit crunch hit, the funding for the environmental sector was one of the worst hit. Jobs were cut along side of funding and the average wage of a graduate shot down. The sector changed for the worst and those coming out of uni eager to gain a career in the sector are still suffering the impact over ten years later.

With nearly every university in the UK offering some sort of biology programme the number of graduates with a degree for the environmental sector is increasing every year. Yet each firm may only offer 1 or 2 jobs. A lot of degrees do not require you to have a work experience placement before graduating so lots of these graduates have little or no experience.

When students graduate it is normally the middle of the summer. The most common entry level post for a graduate is a seasonal role. This can mean it can take nearly 8 months for a graduate to even see a role they are suited for advertised. In the mean time you will see a lot of biologists working in the service industry and volunteering on their days off. The amount of times a graduate can be asked if they are studying or just a waitress can really lower their self esteem. Seasonal contracts run between May to September with predominantly bat work. The starting pay can be minimum wage on a zero-hour contract leading to some not even making a couple of thousand before being laid off. Hours are not guaranteed and there is very little chance of being kept on after which means a further 7 months of unemployment until the new season.

This is the point when a lot of environmental graduates give up and head back to uni to get a masters. A lot of environmental companies wont even look at your cv if you do not have a masters. This can get you a job as an assistant but yet again there is poor pay for zero hours with no guarantee of a full-time contract. As many as 500 to 3000 people could apply for one position and never even hear back in the environmental sector.

For those who are lucky enough to be supported financially, there are lots of places abroad which offer you to pay to come and volunteer. These could be courses like rescuing turtles, saving orangutans or bird surveys. But when you return from these amazing adventures. The sector is impressed but may not find the courses relevant to the UK. In the long run the adventures would be amazing but they may not help you gain a job.

A lot of employers also prefer for the ecologists to be a little bit older. Some of the graduate positions mention wanting 5 years of experience, a number of species licenses, a driver license and consultancy work. A lot of these are unobtainable as a recent graduate unless you are really lucky and get a job straight out. A bat license can cost more than a year at university and take twice as long. The expectation of all this experience is very high and will normally offer very low salaries for all the work.

Even if you have a masters the courses and tests don’t stop there. To gain your charter-ship you have to pay and get a referee. Then to apply for other jobs you have to progress through the different levels of the charter ships which increase in annual costs. It looks good on your cv but doesn’t actually do much. To get more experience you might have to do some courses such as licenses. This can cost up to four thousand pounds and take several years which is almost a year at uni. A lot of other weekend courses can be between £90 and £500 for SIX hours and may not even help you get a job or in the job.

It is fair to say that the sector is hard done by and has changed a lot over the last 10 years. This is not a nice world for graduates and the rewards may not be seen for a while. A lot give up and go on to return to uni or go into a safer trade such as teaching. But for those who can get their foot in the door can find the work very fulfilling and advance quickly through the ranks to become a project leader and make a big impact on the world. But think of those poor seasonal who are struggling to get by on zero hours and running the bar industry. How long can the sector treat graduates like this even after the economy has recovered and the demand for environmental workers increase? Because they won’t try forever if the industry doesn’t try to help them in return!


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