the past five years, the UK environmental recruitment market has seen strong
growth in demand for experienced personnel, reflecting the industrys continued
expansion. Shortages of specialist skills also helped push up salaries well
above the level of inflation. However, there are signs that the tide is
now beginning to turn in response to the economic slowdown. Drawing on a
new survey of salaries and benefits within the sector, we take a closer
look at recent changes in the environmental jobs market.
Just over one year on from ENDS previous review of career prospects for environmental professionals (see ENDS Environmental Consultancy Directory 2002, pp 7-12), recruitment consultants active in the sector are generally less bullish about the current state of the market.
Looking back on the past twelve months, Paul Seeley, director with specialist recruitment agency Eden, comments: "It has been a mixed year while many companies have continued to expand, a few of the larger consultancies have made [staff] cutbacks. In all the years that I have been involved in the environmental industry, this is the first time that so many large organisations have let people go." He refers to recent cuts by big-name environmental consultancies such as Atkins, Casella, Enviros and RPS Group.
Rationalisation of operations following group restructuring or acquisitions has been the main reason for the cutbacks. In addition, some consultancies with a significant dependency on a City-based clientele have suffered as the ripple effect from lay-offs in the City has spread more widely. The slowdown in corporate merger and acquisition activity has meant a decline in demand for environmental due diligence consultants and auditors in particular.
The upside of all this for recruitment agencies is that the appearance of more "long-termers" seeking new employment has made the market more fluid than in recent years, when demand for experienced professionals far outstripped supply. "It is harder to keep clients happy when the sector is doing very well," says Mr Seeley.
James Lawson of Lawson Search Associates (LSA) has also noted "a bit of a downturn" in the industry, but claims that the firm still has more jobs on its books than it can actually fill due to a "lack of good quality candidates".
This situation is mirrored at other environmental recruitment firms. Nick Eva, a consultant with Evergreen Resources, says that the average number of jobs on its books has stayed fairly constant at around the 200 mark, with an average of 30-50 new requirements every month. Although Evergreen typically receives 400-500 new candidate CVs per month, the majority of these are from graduates fresh out of university, few of whom will be successful in finding work placements unless they have industry experience.
A further consequence of the current market conditions is that companies are generally more reluctant to spend money on recruitment, especially for high-priced executive searches or "retained assignments", says James Lawson. In attempting to save money, they are experimenting more with other ways of procuring staff which arent always successful or even strictly legitimate. In the past few months, LSA has discovered several clients "back-dooring" the firm by taking on candidates where it has made the initial introduction. In some of these cases the recruitment consultants have been led to sue.
In collaboration with recruitment consultants Macdonald & Company, ENDS conducted an on-line survey of professionals in the environment sector between 1 December 2002 and 31 January. More than 1,000 responses were received, making this a comprehensive survey covering trends in salaries, pay increases, bonuses and employment packages. The results were collated by web solutions management company NetMedia, but analysed independently by ENDS.
The response was split 69:31 between males and females. Many environmental firms are traditional engineering-type consultancies, with a reputation for having a high proportion of men in management positions. However, Paul Seeley believes that the balance between the sexes is beginning to even out: "More women are definitely coming into the industry at the bottom or middle levels, so in a few years time I would expect to see more senior positions taken by women."
According to the survey, 96% of respondents are currently in full-time employment, with 4% part-time, freelance or unemployed. Table 1 provides a breakdown of the principal professional activities of our survey sample. Almost half of the respondents listed their main function as being in one of three core areas: environmental management and auditing, contaminated land and air pollution/pollution control. The areas of asbestos, ecology/conservation and hydrology have the highest proportions of females, at 40-55%.
The vast majority of respondents are employed in the government/regulatory body and consultancy sectors (see Figure 1). However, James Lawson has seen a "big interest" from environmental consultants "desperate to see the other side of the fence" and move into industry. This is because environmental management positions in industry are perceived to offer better prospects and a less pressurised working environment than consultancy. "You become more of a technical resource rather than a money spinner," explains Mr Lawson. "For similar reasons, a lot of consultants are looking to make themselves more commercial by moving into related legal, insurance and financial fields."
In terms of geographic location, 37% of the survey respondents work in London and the South East, 11% in the Midlands and a further 11% in Scotland. The North and South West of England each account for 8% of the sample workforce, while Wales and East Anglia have 4-5% each. Those based predominantly overseas account for up to 16% of the sample. Over the past year, Nick Eva has noticed an increase in the number of candidates wanting to move out of the South East. "Exorbitant house prices, commuting and congestion problems also make recruitment a lot tougher for firms in the region," he says.
According to the
survey results, average annual earnings for professionals working in the
environmental sector amount to 29,747, although this varies markedly
by region and by primary job function, as shown in Figures 2 and 3. Of
course, other factors such as age, qualification and level of seniority
will also come into play. But surprisingly, those working in London and
the South East appear worse off than those based in the Midlands and Wales,
while East Anglian environmental professionals typically earn the least
James Lawson notes that very few organisations are prepared to pay a London weighting, particularly for junior positions. But that is good news for employees considering a move out of the capital, as relocation wont always mean a wage cut.
The good news for women working in the sector is that there doesnt appear to be an obvious disparity between the genders in terms of pay. In fact, the average female wage, at 29,980, was slightly higher than the male equivalent of 29,667 even though both genders averaged the same 8-9 years industry experience.
The survey reveals that hydrogeologists enjoy the largest salary premium of all the specialist work areas, followed by those involved in corporate environmental policy and health and safety. Nick Eva says: "Salaries are comparatively high in areas with the most acute skills shortages. There is a lot of demand at present for well-qualified hydrogeologists and geotechnical environmental engineers."
Other recruitment consultants point to a shortage of consultants with experience of integrated pollution prevention and control, and quantitative risk assessors with a background in health, safety and environment, reflecting increased demand from industry for an integrated approach to the two disciplines.
As noted in ENDS previous analysis of the environmental jobs market, salary levels for environmental professionals have generally improved markedly over the past five years, with changes being driven by three key factors:
Compared with most areas of science and engineering the environment industry is generally considered quite well paid. However, salary inflation within the sector has calmed down in recent months as companies have tightened their belts. James Lawson comments: "Twelve or eighteen months ago, senior candidates could virtually name their price in order to make a move, but our clients are now much less inclined to pay massively enhanced salaries to encourage them to make the jump."
According to our
survey, 75% of respondents received pay rises of 0-5% during the last
year, while a lucky few (11%) were awarded inflation-busting increases
of more than 10% (see Figure 4). Those working in the public sector saw
the smallest average pay increments, while hydrogeologists and asbestos
specialists recorded the biggest jumps.
Paul Seeley confirms that "although salaries in many sectors are not sky-rocketing as they were a few years ago, asbestos consultants are now seeing better increases in pay and finally catching up with other environmental consultants." This, he believes, is linked to the increase in demand for asbestos expertise following the entry into force of the new asbestos at work regulations at the beginning of last year.
With new tranches of environmental legislation coming in all the time affecting both the corporate and consultancy markets, people with experience in these areas can usually expect to command a premium. Mr Seeley has also noted a marked improvement in what companies are willing to pay for ecologists as a result of the growth in environmental assessment work following the tightening and extension of EIA regulations. Like asbestos, ecology/conservation was previously renowned as an extremely low paid area of the industry.
Benefits and bonuses
While pay rises appear
to have been tempered in recent months, many firms are attempting to compensate
through good all-round benefits packages. The survey results show a variety
of benefits on offer (see Figure 5). The most popular benefit is a pension,
with 88% of respondents enrolled in some kind of pension scheme. Many
employers now offer staff private medical insurance as well as flexible
working arrangements, including flexi-hours and home working arrangements.
Mobile phones are becoming increasingly popular, with 25% of survey participants having received a mobile phone as a new benefit within the last year. Around 20% have gained the use of their own personal computer/laptop during this time.
Just under a third of respondents received a bonus, but the majority (59%) received none, although this is more a reflection of the large proportion of public sector workers in the environment industry (see Figure 6).
In recent years, the environmental services industry has been characterised by the growing mobility of its workforce. Recruitment consultants believe that candidates have certainly become more savvy about the opportunities on offer and do tend to change jobs quite frequently, especially early in their careers. Of those who took part in our survey, 42% have been with their current employer for less than two years, and only 16% have stayed put for more than ten years.
When asked the main
reasons why they might want to leave their current employer, most would
look for a better salary and improved career prospects, as might be expected
(see Figure 7). But it is notable that the third major reason for leaving
is the management style of the current employer, which ranks well above
relocation and retirement. Some of the larger consultancies have implemented
new performance-related financial reward schemes which do not always go
down favourably with employees.
Although some recruitment consultants claim not to have noticed a change in the level of staff mobility in recent months, James Lawson feels certain that "there is an increased reticence to make the commitment to move" due to economic factors. "We have seen a lot of senior candidates going through the whole interview process and get offered the job, but at the end of it they seem less inclined to actually take the gamble because of worries over job security. With the current state of house prices, people have higher levels of debt than ever before."
This trend may also be related to a growing reticence on the part of employers to offer big incentives for new employees to come on board.
The consensus among recruitment consultants is that the year ahead may be tough for the environmental services industry. Paul Seeley says: "It is not going to be a disaster by any means, but I would be surprised if there is major growth. Legislation-driven work areas are more assured, but a question mark remains over other areas such as contaminated land and environmental due diligence, which are more market-led." The recruitment market for EIA practitioners is also expected to be quieter this year given the downturn in the development industry.
James Lawson agrees that the market will flatten out over the next few months after four or five years of sustained growth, but remains optimistic that "it wont get worse in the long term. Although everybody across the industry is feeling the pinch, were still very busy." He points to continuing skills shortages on a nationwide basis. In particular, demand is expected to grow for specialists in emerging areas such as green procurement, corporate social responsibility and sustainability.
ENDS would like to
say a big thank you to all those who took part in our recent salary and