Whether you enter the profession through an internship, graduate scheme or work-based learning on an apprenticeship, gaining experience is crucial for breaking into the environment industry
Do I need a related environmental degree?
Entry into some occupations, such as land-based engineering, is only possible with a specific degree. For other careers, including environmental management or conservation, entrants have usually studied a relevant environmental degree. Science, agriculture, geography or business degrees are considered useful for many other roles in this sector.
However, even if you didn't study a related subject at undergraduate level, an environmental-focused Masters course is a great way of positioning yourself towards a particular career path.
For information on specific entry requirements and qualifications, see our environment and agriculture job profiles.
What environmental skills do employers want?
Recruiters typically look for candidates with:
- relevant practical and technical skills
- an interest in environmental or sustainability issues
- team-working skills
- physical fitness (for some job roles)
- business awareness or management skills.
Entrepreneurial skills may also be valuable due to the abundance of self-employment opportunities.
Where can I get work experience or training?
Some specialised degrees - such as those in engineering and forestry - may include a placement year during the course, but if not, you'll find that work experience is essential to apply for most environmental jobs.
Formal work experience opportunities are usually advertised on large company websites. For example, JCB takes on university students, as well as those studying for their A-levels, for its one-week programme. It's expected that you live within a 25-mile radius of a JCB site, as you'll have to make your own travel arrangements. During the week, you could be placed in a number of departments, including engineering and technical services.
Farm machinery manufacturer KUHN takes on more than 150 trainees each year for its internships and part-time industrial work placements, from young farmers all the way through to career changers and postgraduates. In the role, you'll be assigned a mentor.
Not-for-profit organisations also offer internships, but these are often unpaid. The National Trust offers a diverse range of environmental management, conservation and horticultural internships, with travelling expenses and lunch costs typically covered.
For the three, six, nine and 12-month Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) internships, your travel expenses will be reimbursed while accommodation is provided for residential volunteers.
To find the latest placement opportunities, search for environmental work experience.
How do I find a graduate job?
Many government and public sector organisations, such as Natural England, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Environment Agency (EA), provide job opportunities at all levels. Find out more about Environment Agency careers.
If you're looking for jobs that help the environment, you'll find that vacancies are not always formally advertised as the sector is dominated by small companies - so try sending out speculative applications.
When it comes to jobs for agriculture graduates, there's 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. The latest agriculture roles are typically advertised at environmentjob and IEMA Jobs.
You can also search graduate jobs in environment and agriculture.
What environmental graduate schemes are available?
You can find environmental programmes at large companies such as AB Agri, Atkins, British Sugar, JCB and John Deere. As well as science and engineering streams, there may also be opportunities in other areas - for instance, business management, IT, sales, marketing, accounts and HR.
To gain entry onto most commercially-focused graduate schemes, companies will often accept any degree subject, although some employers do insist on a 2:1 as a minimum requirement.
The Forestry Commission runs a two-year graduate management programme for those with a 2:1 degree or above in a science-based subject related to the environment, civil engineering, land management or forestry. However, those with a business studies background will also be considered for the future leaders programme.
The Environment Agency requires postgraduates with a Masters in civil engineering for entry onto their structured three to four-year graduate training scheme in flood and coastal risk management.
If you're ready to apply for the next intake, search for environmental graduate schemes.
What about environmental apprenticeships?
There's a long tradition of work-based learning in the environmental sector, with apprenticeships widely available.
Land-based and environmental awarding-body Lantra offers apprenticeships at Levels 2 (GCSE) and 3 (A-level), including arborist, forest operative and land-based engineering service engineering technician. To get involved you'll need to search for a local learning provider, as well as a suitable employer.
At the Environment Agency, 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.
Consultancy firm Mott MacDonald runs advanced and degree apprenticeships in a number of areas including civil engineering, transport planning, building services engineering, infrastructure technology and quantity surveying.
For details on the full range of agriculture, environmental and animal care apprenticeships, see GOV.UK.
Do I need to do postgraduate study?
The sector relies heavily on practical and technical skills, so some employers favour work experience coupled with relevant qualifications. Research roles may benefit from further study, while environmental management and consultancy jobs are highly competitive and so a Masters in an environmental subject may give you the edge in a specialist area.
For example, agricultural consultancies may require a Masters in animal production. A seed and crop technology Masters is also necessary for working in a technical consultancy post.
Are there any recognised horticulture courses?
The Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) offers a range of qualifications, including the Level 3 Diploma in the Principles and Practices of Horticulture.
This award consists of three certificates in:
- the principles of plant growth, health and applied propagation
- the principles of garden planning, construction and planting
- practical horticulture.
For those who already hold this Diploma, a degree-level award is available in the form of the Master of Horticulture (MHort) qualification. To be eligible, you'll also need to have gained at least four years' horticulture work experience, including one year as a supervisor or other role requiring a level of responsibility.
There are also work-based horticulture apprenticeships to consider, providing you with a full grounding in specialist areas, such as landscaping, gardens and green space, or sports turf and golf greenkeeping.