10 new hires a day. Every day. For the next two and a half years.

That is what’s needed to fill current projections for environment and sustainability roles in the UK, according to the latest data from Environment Analyst*.

A tall order, which is compounded by today’s job market and when you consider the skills required to enter the sector – 92% are graduates with 61% holding a Masters degree or higher.

So what barriers are there to attract people to the sector? And is the answer finding new talent or can anything be done to help the existing workforce?

Attracting new talent

Diversity remains a major challenge in the environmental sector with 77% of employees being White British – a marked improvement on the 97% from March 2017 but more is certainly needed to be done.

The importance of diversity cannot be overstated. Diverse thinking is a key driver to innovation which will help solve some of the world’s most complex issues – climate change chief among them.

A whole host of efforts are underway to attract new and diverse talent to the sector with a clear focus on engaging schools to highlight the impact an environmental professional can have on the future of society and the planet. Inspiring the next generation is a central strategy for growth – but it’s a long-term effort.

Retaining talent

Exploring staff retention, the figures are encouraging with the vast majority likely to remain within the sector for years to come. But considering those who may not, they flag “no use of degree or masters” as a key reason for considering leaving their role.

Does this beg the question that hiring people with this level of qualification is based on an old system? A system designed at a time when university fees were a fraction of today’s costs?

While the industry demands skills based expertise, not every part of a role requires this level of skill. Certain tasks could be opened up to others. Could this widen the net to a new generation of talented and passionate people who are unable to afford the cost of university but keen to enter the sector?

Specialising to succeed

The role of an environmental professional has expanded considerably. Tasks stretch far beyond what was originally built into a Masters syllabus and includes communications, consultations and stakeholder engagement.

Is there a need to focus the current workforce? To hone in on the specialism they were trained to do and not be distracted by expanding work?

Enabling people to focus on the core of their role – making use of the skills they’ve developed over years of study and training – will not only support retention but increase efficiency as it’s in their comfort zone.

This also opens the door for the industry to draft a broader range of people with a mix of skills and specialisms.

Communications professionals, for example, can bring a new wave of thinking to the sector – particularly for stakeholder engagement, an area that is vital in today’s age of empowered communities where development must be co-created with the community, not just for them.

Whether hired internally or outsourced, working with specialists is one way to expand the existing workforce, diversify the industry, and bridge the gap between academics and communities.

With this in mind, perhaps the true question to ask is: do we need as many as 7,200 new hires if existing environmental consultants are able to do environmental consultancy?


*Stats taken from Environment Analyst’s Sustainability Delivery Group Early Careers Advisory Board study of 366 early career professionals