|SALARY & CAREERS SURVEY|
|Following a slowdown during 2002 and early 2003, the UK environmental recruitment market has seen a return to strong growth in demand for experienced personnel, reflecting the industry's continued expansion. Shortages of specialist skills have kept salaries ahead of inflation for several years now, but the industry could soon be heading for a crisis if steps are not taken to keep environmental graduates within the profession. Drawing on ENDS' latest annual survey of salaries, benefits and career satisfaction within the sector, we take a closer look at recent changes in the environmental jobs market, with insights from the country's leading environmental recruitment consultants.
A year on from ENDS previous review of career prospects for environmental professionals, when we reported on staff cutbacks at some of the big-name environmental consultancies (ENDS Environmental Consultancy Directory 2003, pp 6-11), recruitment consultants active in the sector are generally much more upbeat about the state of the market.
James Lawson, head of specialist environmental recruitment agency Lawson Search Associates, is one of them. "Were certainly more bullish in comparison to six to twelve months ago. Business continued to be very quiet during the early months of 2003 as clients tightened their belts and became more reluctant to spend money on recruitment agencies, while there were no longer such large jumps in salary on offer to act as an incentive for senior executives to move jobs, which had the combined effect of slowing the market."
"However, weve seen a marked improvement, certainly since the end of last summer," he says. "Optimism has returned to the market and more clients are now recruiting again, while the diversity of organisations looking to recruit environmental professionals has also increased so there are more opportunities to make placements."
Lester Lockyer, senior recruitment consultant in the environment group at Allen & York, is in agreement. "After a slow start to 2003, business soon gathered pace and the year finished very strongly, while 2004 is shaping up to be an exceptional year." He believes the turnaround has been led by demand for expertise in several technical areas which have strong legislative drivers such as environmental impact assessment (EIA) and its derivative disciplines such as environmental planning, ecology and noise, as well as integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) and asbestos management.
Mr Lockyer also confirms a continued steady demand for contaminated land consultants, which has been a consistent feature of the environmental jobs market for several years. Recycling, landfill and waste management in general are also highlighted as sustained areas of growth.
Contaminated land and EIA are singled out as significant growth areas by Paul Seeley, director of Eden Recruitment, whose business has increased by an estimated 20% during the past twelve months. He also notes a particular surge in demand for ecologists in response to the EU habitats and water framework Directives, and also for EIA and ecological impact specialists to work on the latest crop of offshore wind farms and other sustainable energy developments.
A symptom of the upturn in market conditions is that companies seem more willing to retain the services of recruitment consultants on a long-term basis. "We have seen a big increase in retained recruitment and executive search work, as opposed to one-off contingent type placements as a result of our clients ongoing recruitment/expansion programmes," says James Lawson.
Allen & York notes a similar trend towards partnering arrangements with its clients. Lester Lockyer believes this is due to a general realisation of the importance of good recruitment practices as an essential element of business development. There are also advantages for the client in that the recruitment consultant will get to know the business and its particular needs and requirements.
The sectors strong market drivers and growth potential have attracted many newcomers to the environmental recruitment market in recent months, but it can be difficult to succeed without specialist knowledge. "Lots of agencies have identified the environmental field as a growth market, but you have to question their longevity," says Mr Lockyer. "It takes a long time to know the industry and build up a database...Allen and York has around 25,000 environmental candidates on our database which has taken ten years to build up."
This is particularly important in a "candidate-driven" market such as the environmental sector, adds James Lawson, "where there are not enough skilled people with the right qualifications and expertise to go round and the recruitment process needs to be proactive in order to seek out the right candidates."
"We often find ourselves in the position of cleaning up for clients after non-specialist recruitment agencies have failed to deliver for them, simply because they dont have enough environmental specialists on their databases," he says.
However, increased competition in the market is good news for clients, since it is forcing down recruitment agency fee rates.
We conducted an online survey of ENDS Report readers and other visitors to our website between September 2003 and January 2004. Almost 600 responses were received, making this the UK environmental industrys most comprehensive annual survey covering salaries, pay increases, benefits packages and career satisfaction.
The response was split approximately 67:33 between males and females. The relative youthfulness of the environmental industry is reflected in the age profile of respondents, with 62% of the sample being aged 35 years or less. Those with more than ten years experience in this field are few and far between, accounting for 28% of the sample. The vast majority, 41%, have fewer than five years experience, while 31% have been in the industry for 6-10 years.
The environmental professionals in our survey are extremely well educated. As many as 93% have a degree qualification, and well over half of these are at masters level or higher. Chartered engineers accounted for just over 5% of the sample, while 14% are registered environmental auditors with the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA).
Table 1 provides a breakdown of the main professional activities of the survey respondents. Around 50% of the sample listed their main function as being in one of four core areas: environmental management and auditing, contaminated land/remediation, integrated health, safety andenvironmental management and waste management.
As Figure 1 illustrates, the vast majority (37%) are employed in the consultancy sector, while a further 24% work for the public sector in local authorities, central government or regulatory bodies such as the Environment Agency. Most of the remainder are employed as environmental managers in industry or work within academic or research institutions and pressure groups.
According to Adam Whitney of Evergreen Resources, "while recruitment in the consultancy sector remains as strong as always for the agencies, recruitment in the industrial sector to the likes of major oil and gas and pharmaceutical companies has recently become a lot stronger. He believes this is because environmental issues have moved up the boardroom agenda and industry is now reacting more pre-emptively to new legislation."
James Lawson notes a continued "big interest"among those with 5-10 years experience in the consultancy sector who want to move into industrial environmental management. There seems to be a general perception that "the grass is greener" in industry, he says, while "some people just seem to crave the consistency and stability of an industry post rather than a consultancy workload which may change on a weekly or even daily basis."
However, it can be difficult to make the jump between the two sectors, as openings in industry are often "filled by default" through internal promotions, referrals and word of mouth. Moreover, such vacancies are often filled by professionals who were previously employed by the firm in an external consulting capacity.
Survey respondents were asked to indicate whether the numbers of environmental professionals employed by their organisation are increasing. Some 47% reported growing staff numbers (rising to 53% in large organisations) compared to just 11% who said that numbers were dropping.
When asked which specialist environmental skills were most in demand within their organisation, two-thirds of respondents cited waste management. General environmental management, EIA and contaminated land skills were also identified by more than half the survey sample.
"It is a constant struggle to find the right personnel," says Lester Lockyer. "It can take months to find the right person for a specific role and even then were not able to fill every single role that were asked to." He points to a dearth of contaminant hydrogeologists, geotechnical engineers, IPPC specialists, asbestos surveyors, contaminated land geo-environmental engineers, river/flood modellers and EIA personnel.
James Lawson notes a lack of candidates with experience of IPPC in particular. "Basically, we can always place people who have IPPC and any other kind of environmental permitting experience. Risk assessment is the same."
Meanwhile, according to Evergreens Adam Whitney: "It is very difficult to get the right people for emerging areas such as corporate social responsibility and climate change. Although there arent a huge number of vacancies in these areas, when a good candidate comes up there is always a requirement among the larger environmental consultancies and big four management consultancies."
Environment Agency chief executive Barbara Young recently warned of a recruitment crisis at the Agency due to a serious shortage of graduates in crucial disciplines.
It is now looking at its remuneration packages, and the possibility of offering flexible working practices as a strategy to combat the problem. It may also sponsor post-A-level foundation and degree courses in areas such as river and coastal management /engineering, and is working with the Field Skills Council on ways of encouraging universities to boost the field work component of science degrees.
Baroness Young feels that it is important to attract people into the profession at an earlier stage, "rather than waiting for them to come out of university and discovering they don't exist."
However, organisations such as the Environment Agency which offer graduate training schemes remain relatively few and far between, with the result that a significant proportion of environmental graduates tend to drift into unrelated professions.
Lester Lockyer comments: "Not enough environmental consultancies have a policy of graduate recruitment which makes it very difficult for graduates to get their foot in the door. The irony is that this then creates a void of experienced personnel as the industry grows and depends on more skilled personnel coming in."
Added to this, James Lawson believes that many graduates leave university with false aspirations. "It seems to be that more and more universities are telling their undergraduates to expect greater remuneration when they get out into industry than industry will realistically pay. In doing this, they are providing false information and implanting false aspirations. So graduates quickly become disillusioned with the sector and instead go away and do a masters degree in order to move into better paid areas such as law or accountancy."
While there are few graduate postings in the environmental consultancy profession at present, those able to demonstrate some kind of work experience on their CV should be at an advantage, according to Evergreen Resources. In addition, there does appear to be a "chink of light" for graduates in the waste management industry, says Adam Whitney.
"In recent months, the waste sector has been much more open to graduates coming in to take up junior technician and monitoring posts. These may be the landfill managers of the future. This has meant that we've been able to place several candidates at a much lower level than we've done in previous years," he states.
The distribution of average annual salaries among those who took part in our survey by age, gender, seniority and primary job function is shown in Figures 2-4.
Interestingly, women working in the sector tend to start on slightly higher salaries than their male colleagues when they are in their twenties. But this trend does not hold for long, and the stereotypical gender gap in wages becomes all too apparent in later years, reflecting the career breaks taken by women to start a family as well as the general lack of women holding senior positions.
In fact, by the time environmental professionals reach their forties, the gap widens to a to massive £10,000 pay differential between the sexes. At this point in their careers, men can expect to earn an average of £40,542 compared to £30,250 for women. However, the gap closes slightly for the 50 years+ age group.
Salaries also vary markedly depending on the individuals main area of specialism. Our survey indicates that those involved in public affairs, corporate policy and acoustics tend to be among the best rewarded, while areas with the poorest pay levels include air pollution, ecology and resource/waste management.
However, Edens Paul Seeley notes that, following the recent surge in demand for consultant ecologists, salaries in this field are now increasing above the average rate to bring pay more in line with other areas of consultancy. New legislative demand drivers and increased competition for candidates are reported to be exerting a similar effect on asbestos and environmental monitoring specialists another area of the industry which has traditionally suffered from poorer salaries.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the environmental lawyers in our survey took home an average annual salary of £55,833, outstripping the average environmental consultant who earns £29,902 by 87%. Industrial environmental managers working in the oil and chemicals, energy and construction/building sectors appear particularly well rewarded with salaries typically £5,000-13,000 in advance of environmental consultants with the same number of years experience.
Turning to the public sector, the salaries of environmental professionals working in central government are on a par with consultants, although those working for regulatory bodies and local authorities take home £2,000-3,000 less on average.
The other major factor influencing salary rates is geographical location. Survey respondents working in London were shown to earn a premium of around 15% on top of the average earnings, while those in Northern Ireland and Wales typically fared the worst. However, individuals who travel around the UK with their job can expect a premium of up to 30% on the average rate, while those who are based overseas can expect double that.
The survey indicates that salaries are continuing to rise at above the rate of inflation (see Figure 5), with average pay increasing by 5.5% last year although this figure includes all those who have changed jobs during the last twelve months.
It does, however, represent a slight slowdown on the salary increases typical of the late 1990s/early 2000s. Consultancies are now working to such tight margins in many technical areas due to the high level of competition in the market that they cannot support any further big salary rises without passing the increases on to their customers.
James Lawson recalls the time a few years back when "good quality senior consultants could virtually name their own price" to move to a new firm. Now, he says, "these people have reached the top of the bracket that consultancy bill out rates can afford."
Paul Seeley believes that current salary inflation is being driven from the lower end of the market. "I have noticed that candidates with just two or three years [consultancy] experience under their belts are now attracting salaries in the order of £25,000. Salaries for this group are certainly a lot higher now in real terms than five or ten years ago."
Candidates with sound business development skills may also have greater leverage than others when moving jobs to negotiate harder on salaries based on their track record of bringing in new business.
In common with pay rises, bonus payments held steady in 2003 and were comparable to the previous year, with a mean bonus per person of around £1,500.
However, as many as 56% of survey respondents did not receive a bonus at all, which is partly a reflection of the large proportion of public sector workers in the environment industry (Figure 6). Professionals working in industry for oil and chemicals, energy, construction and water companies were most likely to receive a bonus.
Many organisations are choosing to reward their employees through other types of benefits packages (Figure 7). The most popular benefit is a pension scheme, with 87% of respondents enrolled in some kind of pension scheme. Electronic communications equipment such as mobile phones and laptop computers are becoming standard add-ons for environmental professionals who are often required to work out of the office on-site. There is also a growing number of individuals with flexible working arrangements, including flexi-hours and home working options.
Another emerging trend is for so-called "tradable benefits" packages. Some of the larger consultancies have recently introduced such schemes whereby each type of benefit on offer is worth a certain number of points for instance, a company car might be 50 points, health care might be 10, and extra holidays might be 5 points per day, etc. Each employee is allocated a total number of "benefits points" depending on their seniority, allowing the individual to tailor the selection of benefits to fit his or her personal preferences.
Only 5% of the survey respondents benefit from this type of scheme at present, although the number has increased by almost 40% on the previous year. However, recruitment consultants believe this type of scheme will catch on and prove extremely popular with prospective employees.
Respondents were asked to indicate the most attractive benefit that they are not currently receiving. A company car was top of the "most wanted" list, cited by 13% of the survey sample, followed by flexitime (10%), performance-related bonus (10%), paid overtime (9%) and health insurance (9%).
Positively, around three-quarters of respondents believe that the salary and benefits package received from their current employer compares favourably to other similar organisations.
Career satisfaction and aspirations
The survey results suggest that career satisfaction among environmental professionals is typically high, with 35% saying that they are content in their job and a further 31% of respondents reporting that they enjoy their work. Only 9% expressed any negative feelings towards their current job.
Meanwhile, 87% felt that job security within their current organisation is "OK" or "good" compared with other similar companies. The sense of job security is strongest among those working for regulatory agencies and other government bodies.
In terms of immediate career aspirations, the priority for most individuals is to improve on their current skills and gain more experience at what they do now (35%), while almost a third aspire to moving up the corporate management structure. As many as 88% of respondents benefit from some kind of formal training in their jobs. Of these, approximately two-thirds took part in internal training courses, while more than half attended professional workshops and seminars and other types of external training.
However, 42% of respondents feel that promotional prospects at their current place of work are lacking. Although 32% do not expect to change their jobs for the foreseeable future, 16% expect to move to a different organisation within the next six months and 18% within a year. A further 25% anticipate moving in 2-3 years time, while the remainder hope to move within five years.
When asked the main reason why they might want to leave their current employer, the range of interesting work, management style and location emerged as the most important factors each cited by 11% of the survey sample. The workforce is apparently highly mobile, with 40% willing to relocate anywhere within UK for the right job, while 56% would relocate globally.
The survey indicates that the majority of environmental postings are filled before they are even advertised, through internal promotions and sideways movements (26%) or word of mouth and personal contacts (14%). Classified advertisements in national or local papers account for a further 17% of vacancies filled, while those in specialist environmental publications such as The ENDS Report make up 12% of the total.
Around 11% of the survey sample found their last job by registering with a recruitment agency. Allen & York emerged as the top specialist recruitment firm in our survey, with a 34% share of the placements made, followed by Beresford Blake Thomas (BBT) with 25%. Index Environmental, Evergreen Resources, Eden Recruitment and Lawson Search Associates jointly account for a further 25% share.
Most recruitment consultants are looking forward to the year ahead as one of sustained growth in the environmental jobs market.
Paul Seeley of Eden says: "There are still plenty of jobs in this market and very good prospects. Most of our [corporate] clients have plans to expand over the next couple of years and all seem very upbeat and positive about the market mainly because of the strong legislative drivers. The property market on the major developments front is now also moving again which is good news for the contam- inated land and EIA sectors."
According to Adam Whitney, Evergreen will be focused on three core growth areas during 2004 industrial environmental management systems and auditing, asbestos and EIA. It is also anticipating sustained growth in the waste and IPPC sectors as industry gears up for another round of permit applications.
Similarly, Lawson Search Associates is "looking forward to the new year with increased optimism." James Lawson expects the waste, permitting and risk assessment sectors to be particularly busy. He also expects to help place a growing number of individuals looking to move away from the technical engineering side of the industry and into "softer disciplines" such as CSR, climate change and corporate strategy work.