Overview of the environmental sector in the UK
From giant agricultural corporations to small family businesses and not-for-profits, a graduate career in this sector can offer plenty of variety and opportunity
What areas can I work in?
Employment opportunities can be grouped into:
- air quality;
- corporate social responsibility (CSR);
- environmental assessment;
- waste management;
- water quality.
Plus a wide range of land or animal-related careers, including:
- animal care;
- animal technology;
- fisheries management;
- game and wildlife management;
- horticulture and landscaping;
- land-based engineering;
- trees and timber;
- veterinary work.
There are approximately 230,000 businesses and around 1.3 million employees working in the sector. Nearly 150,000 of these are agriculture businesses with most jobs linked to livestock (Lantra 2014).
For examples of job roles in this sector, see graduate jobs in environment and agriculture.
You may also wish to consider environmental opportunities in the energy and utilities sector.
Who are the main graduate employers?
Employers range in size from large, multinational companies, to very small or family-owned businesses.
Graduate training schemes are more likely to be found with larger companies, government bodies and environmental consultancies.
Large companies include:
- AB Agri;
- British Sugar;
- CNH Industrial;
- John Deere;
Government organisations include:
- Environment Agency;
- Forestry Commission;
- Natural England;
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC);
- Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA);
- Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
There are many environmental consultancies, including SLR Consulting and ADAS. Some offer advice to specific industries or specialise in environmental assessment. Other large consultancy firms, such as Atkins and WSP, work in a range of industries including the environment sector. You can find a list of consultancies at the ENDS Directory.
The sector also contains not-for-profit organisations concerned with issues such as protecting the environment and animal welfare. Well-known groups include:
- Friends of the Earth;
What's it like working in the sector?
Graduates entering the environment and agriculture sector can expect:
- jobs involving plants or animals;
- to work outdoors in all weathers or to be part-office based;
- a wide range of jobs, from practical hands-on and physically demanding work to consultancy;
- varied salaries that depend upon entry qualification and the industry you work in. Graduate members of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) earn on average £25,000, but this rises to £37,700 for those at associate level. Environmental professionals in mining and quarrying have the highest median annual salary of £57,000;
- opportunities for self-employment. More than 55% of the agricultural workforce is self-employed. In comparison the national average is 13% (Lantra 2014).
To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see job profiles.
What are the key issues in the environment and agriculture sector?
The sector is forecast to need 595,000 entrants between now and 2020. This includes 447,000 workers to replace those leaving through retirement, according to Lantra.
There has been a revival in UK farming with a drive to support locally grown products, although there are challenges, particularly in areas such as dairy. A National Farmers’ Union (NFU) survey in December 2015 found that 49% of respondents reported declining profits and 7% said that there business might not survive. However, the three-year confidence forecast was more positive.
As well as practical skills, prospective farmers need business skills and environmental knowledge to keep up-to-date with regulatory requirements and to take responsibility for the environment.
There is a shortage of workers with agronomy skills (soil management and crop production), an area of work increasingly vital to modern agricultural practices.
A skills shortage also exists in horticulture, landscape architecture and land-based engineering. There is also an urgent need for young people to enter fisheries management.
The environmental sector has seen an increase in renewable energy, contaminated land, flood risk management and energy management jobs. There is a particular demand for ecologists with field identification skills to monitor biodiversity and climate change.
Companies across all sectors are employing more environmentalists or using environmental consultancies for public relations and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Despite this job increase there is added competition for graduate positions, as more people are studying environmental courses.