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Thursday, 30 November 2017 11:04

Infrastructure investment drives UK environmental jobs market

Josh Blanchard, Ecology Lead Consultant at recruitment specialist Allen & York, looks at the current environmental jobs market, focusing on opportunities, skills-shortages and areas of strong demand for 2017/18.

allen  york landfill bird webCurrent hotspots within environmental recruitment include; Flood-risk, EIA and Ecology all of which are being driven in the main by investment in; transport, house building/regeneration, communications and energy infrastructure improvements throughout the UK. The project which has dominated this year is HS2 and a great deal of the recruitment demand has been driven by this project alone.

We work with many of the large global multi-disciplinary/engineering consultancies, who have won contracts or are working in joint venture partnerships to deliver these major UK transport infrastructure builds.  These projects have driven an increased demand for environmental impact assessment (EIA) professionals and ecologists, who are not only brought in at the planning stages, but also contracted to the projects throughout the construction.

With any large build, environmental professionals are crucial to the progression of the project.  Legislation requires a high level of environment compliance and any corner-cutting can lead to potentially expensive delays, so these are highly responsible and vital appointments.  EIA roles are mainly permanent positions, but there has been a recent surge in contractor positions available. Typically, with our current clients working on HS2, the contracts are for a minimum of 3 years with options up to 7 years, so these are well paid and long-term contracts.  

allen  york shutterstock owl webContractor positions, in most industries are almost always better paid than permanent roles, which of course reflects the uncertain nature of a contract.  For instance, take two roles that we are currently working on today; a Principal EIA Consultant (permanent) in London, Manchester or Birmingham, has the annual salary of £55,000 plus benefits (e.g. pension, car allowance, bonus).  In comparison, a Senior Environment Manager (contractor), commands a salary of up to £400 per day (which equates to £80,000-£100,000 per annum), so there is quite a difference.

However, money is often not the most important factor and for many of the environmental professionals we speak to finding the right projects to work on, increasing your species knowledge or being part of an interesting/likeminded company is often a much more attractive proposition.  Autumn into Winter is traditionally a slower period for environmental recruitment, especially within ecology where the season usually runs from March to Sept and tends to peter out as species migrate/hibernate and plants die-off.  However, the market this year (as last year) has continued to be busy and again this is in direct correlation to the on-going infrastructure development being undertaken across the country.  There are opportunities to be part of teams within a large multidisciplinary or as a specialist in a smaller ecology consultancy, so there is lots of variety on offer.

allen  york JoshBlanchard web copyAnother part of urban development and an expanded transport network, is the environmental impact on flood risk.  This is an area in which we have seen steady employment growth and investment over the last 5 years, and with more regular annual flooding and extreme rainfall across the UK, environmental consultancies and government organisations are boosting their flood risk teams.  Whether hurricane Harvey has caused consultancies to re-evaluate their teams or whether there is a link to seasonality, we are beginning to see another peak in the demand for flood risk consultants as we move into the latter months of the year, so if you are looking for a career move in the new year or to expand your flood risk team, now would be a good time to contact us to start the recruitment process.

Skills shortages are apparent in the senior levels for almost all the technical disciplines we recruit into and the environmental sector is no exception.  The combination of the recession and an older workforce on the brink of retirement, means the pool of people with 5-10 years’ experience has reduced.  Although this has made our job more difficult (we like a challenge) it has also offered more opportunity for junior environmental professionals within the industry.  Employers are more open to looking at exceptional candidates with only 2-3 years’ experience for more senior roles, who would like to take this step-up.  I would offer a word of caution, that we are looking at ‘exceptional’ candidates to be fast-tracked and some individuals might find this an unnecessary pressure.  However, it’s a great opportunity for increased career progression for these top-flight professionals.   

Overall the environmental jobs market is currently surprisingly busy for the time of year.  There are lots of opportunities across the large multi-disciplinary consultancies, offering the chance to work on high-profile projects and gain valuable experience over a broad skill-set.  There are also smaller projects being undertaken by specialist consultancies all over the UK, within residential and commercial construction, town and transport planning and energy infrastructure, offering excellent permanent career opportunities.  We are always happy to discuss opportunities or support recruitment strategies, so please don’t hesitate to contact us to find out more.

Contact: Josh Blanchard, Ecology Lead Consultant at ALLEN & YORK 01202 888 986