How to get environmental work experience (With FAQs)
Updated 31 July 2023
Having a career that involves working in the environment can be fulfilling. There are various types of jobs and career paths within this field, even if you lack a degree in environmental science or similar. If you're interested in an environmental career, knowing how to get some work experience is useful. In this article, we explain how to get environmental work experience, list useful skills to develop and answer some frequently asked questions.
How to get environmental work experience
Knowing how to get environmental work experience can help you transition into this career, whether you've recently completed an environmental science degree or have already worked in other sectors:
1. Evaluate your skills and experience
Your abilities and experience depend on how long you've been working, the field in question and your education. Try to identify the hard and soft skills you possess, those that you could easily acquire, your education, certifications and accumulated experience. Although the current version of your CV probably contains a lot of this information, it's probably better suited to your current career and sector. It may omit certain skills that aren't relevant to your current role but could be useful in an environmental career.
Alternatively, you might have no work experience but have a degree. If the degree is in environmental science, you may find proceeding more straightforward. If you have a degree in another subject, there are still lots of options. Consider the skills you've accumulated due to your studies and the others that you possess. Produce some lists to get a better idea.
2. Assess your options
Now that you've reviewed your skills and experience, you can use this information to assess your options. For example, if you've got a degree in business and have worked as a marketer, then becoming an environmental engineer isn't really feasible. There are two factors that affect your options. One is your eligibility for specific roles and the other is how interested you are in them. To take the example of a marketer again, you may find that one option is to work as a marketer in an environmental NGO, but that might not be what you had in mind.
Other backgrounds and skill sets may allow for more flexibility, such as engineering or natural sciences. The key outcome of this step is to identify whether the options available to you fit your preferences. If they don't, then you may require additional steps.
3. Consider training
If you lack the necessary skills or experience to get a role that you want, consider some form of training. The type of training depends on your background and the career you want to pursue. For example, if you don't have a degree then you might consider an apprenticeship. If you do have a degree but no experience, then a graduate training scheme might be a good choice. If you have a degree and experience, dedicated training courses or further education can get you the skills or qualifications necessary.
4. Tailor your CV
Whether you're writing your first CV after graduation or you're rewriting your CV for a career change, it's a good idea to tailor it for environmental work. Identify the requirements for the jobs that you want to apply to and use this information to tailor your CV for that position and employer. You can also find useful templates online in addition to example CVs for environmental roles.
5. Apply for jobs
Once you're sure about what you want to do and believe you're ready, you can start to send applications. These could be the jobs you identified when assessing your options or new options that you found on job sites. You can also research employers for whom you'd like to work and check their websites and social media pages for opportunities. Consider reaching out to your personal network to see if anyone is able to put you in contact with someone who can help.
6. Manage your expectations
If you're looking for environmental work experience, manage your expectations. It's likely that you've either worked in a separate sector or you have no experience due to recently graduating. This means you can expect entry-level work initially. For someone who already has some work experience in other sectors, this could initially mean taking a role that pays less than you're currently earning or one that's less senior. Focus on your ambition to pursue an environmental career, learn as much as you can and be open to change. With time, you can accumulate the experience necessary to pursue a rewarding career.
Skills for environmental careers
Depending on the exact nature of the career you want to pursue, the necessary skills are going to vary. For roles that involve the environment and looking after it, there are some skills and attributes that are often going to be useful to either your application or subsequent career growth. Some examples of these are as follows:
Knowledge of the environment
Even if you're not working as an environmental scientist, engineer or similar role, it helps to have some understanding of the environment. You can split this into general environmental knowledge and specific. The specific relates to the aspect of the environment that directly involves your job. General environmental knowledge means knowing about how ecosystems work, phenomena like sea level changes and climate change and information about the country's ecosystems. Specific knowledge could be related to particular habitats like rivers, specific animal population numbers, the challenges of renewable energy and environmental legislation.
Curiosity and passion
Employers working in the environmental sector may prioritise candidates who have a real commitment to preserving the environment. Curiosity is another attribute that supports and complements this, especially if you're making a career transition and would benefit from learning more. Learn more about environmental issues and communicate your passion on your application documents and in interviews.
Project management skills can be useful in a wide variety of environmental roles. A lot of environmental roles involve project-based work that has a defined beginning and end. This could be something like a river cleanup, an awareness campaign, the installation of renewable power farms or construction projects. If you want a long-term career in this sector with greater responsibilities, learn about project management.
Analysis and problem-solving are often integral to environmental work, as this work involves competing priorities like financial feasibility and environmental preservation. You analyse problems and identify workable solutions. More advanced skills like data analysis can also be beneficial as they promote informed decision-making and data-driven analysis.
Frequently asked questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about environmental work, together with their respective answers:
How do environmental apprenticeships work?
Apprenticeships can be a good option for those who want to get work experience related to the environment without going through a full degree first. Like most apprenticeships, it's necessary to be over the age of 16 and not be in full-time education. Employers typically offer these apprenticeships to train qualified staff, in exchange for which you learn and work at the same time. They can take between one and five years to complete, after which you may receive a diploma.
Typically, at least 20% of your time as an apprentice is going to be for study and training. You can expect to work alongside experienced staff to learn from them and receive the benefits of an employee. The pay rates for apprenticeships are slightly different to normal employees, depending on your age.
What types of employers offer environmental work?
There are various types of employers whose work can involve the environment. Some of these include energy providers, agricultural businesses, fisheries, NGOs, environmental agencies, trusts, societies dedicated to species preservation and research institutions. Many companies whose core activities aren't directly related to the environment might nevertheless have teams devoted to making a positive impact as part of their corporate social responsibility.
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