Discover what qualifications and skills you'll require to enter careers in the sector - with work experience and a passion for the natural environment boosting your chances of landing a job

Entry to occupations such as land-based engineering is only possible with a specific degree. For others, including environmental management or conservation, entrants usually have a relevant degree and increasingly a postgraduate qualification. Graduates from other disciplines could consider a postgraduate conversion course to boost their environmental job applications.

For many other jobs in this sector, science, agriculture, geography or business degrees are considered useful.

The sector provides opportunities for training and development at all entry levels and there's a long tradition of apprenticeships and work-based learning (see below).

For information on entry requirements and how to gain specific qualifications take a look below, or view job profiles.

What skills do employers want?

Employers usually require candidates with:

  • relevant practical and technical skills
  • an interest in environmental or sustainability issues
  • teamwork skills
  • physical fitness (for some job roles)
  • business awareness or management skills.

Entrepreneurial skills can also be valuable due to the abundance of self-employment opportunities.

Where can I get work experience?

Work experience is essential for most jobs in this sector and voluntary work is a way in to many areas, such as conservation, ecology and animal care. Specialised degrees, such as engineering and forestry, often include a placement year during the course.

Opportunities for volunteering can be found with not-for-profit organisations, including:

  • National Trust
  • Natural England - includes volunteering opportunities in their National Nature Reserves (NNRs)
  • RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)
  • RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
  • TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) - enter your postcode to discover activities in your area
  • The Wildlife Trusts.

Internships are often advertised on large company websites. For example, British Sugar offers 12-month industrial placements in agriculture, science and engineering, while JCB has opportunities for 16 to 18-year-olds and those over 18 in a variety of departments, from engineering and technical service roles to marketing and human resources. Kuhn takes on more than 150 trainees each year, encompassing young farmers all the way through to career changers and postgraduates for its internships and part-time industrial work placements.

Not-for-profit organisations also offer internships, but unfortunately these are often unpaid. The National Trust offers a diverse range of environmental management and horticultural internships, with travelling expenses and lunch costs typically covered. The RSPB offers three-, six-, nine- and 12-month internships, while also reimbursing your travel outlay. Options available include residential volunteering where accommodation costs are provided close to the reserve.

To find work placements and internships in environment and agriculture, search for work experience. You can also read more about volunteering with animals.

How do I find a graduate job in environment and agriculture?

Graduates have a choice of commercial and technical roles on progressive farms, or in the large number of global and regional companies involved with crops, livestock, machinery and food.

Useful websites include:

Employment is also available with government organisations such as the Environment Agency (EA), as job roles and work-based learning opportunities are advertised at all levels (see below).

Jobs are not always formally advertised as the sector is dominated by small companies. Sending out speculative applications is one approach that may bring you success.

To find jobs in the environment sector, search graduate jobs in environment and animal and plant resources.

How do I get onto a graduate scheme?

You can find graduates schemes at large companies such as AB Agri, AGCO, British Sugar, JCB and John Deere. These include opportunities in engineering, science, IT, sales and marketing, accounts and HR.

The Forestry Commission runs a graduate development programme for those with degrees in forestry, environmental science or estate management.

To gain entry onto commercial graduate schemes, companies will often accept any degree subject, although some employers will insist on a 2:1 as a minimum requirement.

What apprenticeships are available?

Land-based and environmental awarding-body Lantra details an environmental conservation apprenticeship that tackles local and national issues ranging from household waste recycling to habitat management. The apprenticeship enables those aged 16 or over and not in education to choose from four routes at intermediate (level 2) or advanced (level 3): dry stone walling; rivers, coasts and waterways or flood risk management; access and recreation; or environmental conservation. However, you'll need to search for a learning provider that's close to where you live, as well as a suitable employer.

At the Environment Agency (EA), you could choose to undertake an assistant scientist (level 3) or facilities management (level 2) apprenticeship, with the paid workplace training taking place in either a laboratory or office respectively.

In addition to its graduate scheme, consultancy firm Mott MacDonald runs apprenticeships in civil engineering, transport planning, building services engineering and quantity surveying. It has advanced apprenticeships for school leavers who meet their qualification requirements. The three-year level 3 engineering apprenticeship enables you to take up a paid work-based training position while attending college on a day- or block-release programme. A-level students may be interested in their degree apprenticeships, with candidates having studied maths considered ideal for the five-year programme.

For details on the full range of apprenticeships in agriculture, horticulture and animal care, see GOV.UK. On the site, you can also search and apply for apprenticeships in England.

What about foundation degrees?

If you're interested in a work-based learning programme to become a flood engineer, the Environment Agency (EA), in partnership with Brunel University London, delivers a two-year flood and coastal engineering foundation degree. You'll need to hold BCC grades at A-level (excluding general studies), including a B in maths or physics, or have achieved a relevant BTEC level 3 diploma.

The qualification can lead to permanent positions with the agency and local authorities, for instance, the EA is keen to take on a proportion of graduates each year.

Search environment and agriculture related foundation degree courses offered by institutions across the UK, at UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service).

Do I need to do postgraduate study?

The sector relies heavily on practical and technical skills, so it's not always necessary to pursue a Masters - as some employers favour work experience coupled with an undergraduate degree. However, research roles may benefit from further study, while environmental management and consultancy jobs are highly competitive and so a relevant Masters may give you the edge in a specialist area; it all depends on what you wish to do.

For example, agricultural consultancies may require a Masters in animal production. A seed and crop technology Masters is also necessary for a technical consultancy post.

To explore postgraduate environmental science and ecology qualifications, search postgraduate courses.

Which professional qualifications are recognised in the sector?

By joining a dedicated professional body that relates to your specific land or animal-based career can provide you with information and advice, opportunities to gain industry-specific qualifications and connections to like-minded individuals.

  • The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) is committed to providing a range of certified and approved training courses for environment and sustainability professionals. This includes the Introductory Certificate in Environmental Management for those new to environmental issues.
  • The highest level of professional qualification (Masters-standard) available to environmental practitioners is the Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv), which is offered by the Society for the Environment (SocEnv).
  • If you're responsible for the management of agricultural and associated rural businesses, or aspire to be, the Institute of Agricultural Management (IAgrM) provides activities and opportunities for personal development to its members at various levels, including students.
  • A national organisation for rural property valuers, the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV) supports professionals in providing advice on a range of matters that affect the countryside.
  • Another land ownership advice body, the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants (BIAC) ensures that its database of members have access to information and attend events that will aid their continuous professional development (CPD).