What jobs can ecology graduates do?
Simon Bangs is a Conservation Recruitment Consultant for Allen & York – a leading International Sustainability Recruitment Consultancy, with an increasing number of renewable energy jobs, ecology and environmental jobs throughout the globe.
WHAT DO YOU DO AS A RECRUITMENT CONSULTANT?
We work on behalf of a variety of clients around the world to source new members of staff for them – typically this is for a very specific skill-set or managerial role which they lack access to via their own direct networks.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN TYPES OF JOBS WHICH ECOLOGY GRADUATES COULD GO INTO?
The key divide is between developing and developed countries.
In most developed countries – like ones in Europe or North America for example – then most ecologists at some point will tend towards careers in consulting, or working for regulators or NGOs.
However for those coming out of developing countries, their opportunities are often linked to the organisations that are funding work in their countries. For example, all of the international NGOs that we see who are running projects in places like Sub-Saharan Africa or SE Asia, are contracted to empower the local population and help build their local capacity. Those people are seen as very valuable for the future of conservation on their countries.
ARE THERE DIFFERENCES IN TERMS OF CAREER OPPORTUNITIES BASED ON EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND?
Definitely so, but it does depend upon the role you wish to go into. The clearer the idea a graduate has of where they want to go, the greater the chance they have of actually achieving that…
For work which is very academic or research focussed, there is a natural inclination towards those who have spent longer in universities learning refining research methods, techniques and technologies needed for those career paths. If you want to go and work for an IUCN or for a research-centric organisation then high calibre academic qualifications are important.
It is also important to look at the calibre of the institute where that person has been educated – it’s true this reinforces stereotypes, but most of the time there is a difference between someone coming from an average university in a developing country compared to someone who comes out of Harvard or Cambridge. When planning their education I’d always encourage people to not just look at the course content, but also to associate yourself with as high a calibre of institute as is possible too.
The slight flip side of the answer is that for the private sector the need for straight academic qualifications is not so strong. This is where often find the softer skills of communication, financial, people and time management become more valuable. If you’re working for an RPS or Atkins they don’t want you going out on site and counting every single individual flower because you’re aiming for perfection, instead it is a balance between a good survey result in a time & cost efficient manner.
ARE THERE ANY BIG CAREER GROWTH AREAS WHICH ECOLOGY GRADUATES SHOULD CONSIDER?
There is an increasing push from the international NGO’s to catch up with the private sector and to prove value in the funding they receive. For example, I have seen over the past few years an increasing need for data solutions like GIS and Environmental Information Systems to provide empirical results. So certainly those who are able to link up information technology and also statistical skill with their conservation background can have an advantage. It enables them to be more open to a wider range of jobs and opportunities into the future.
Another aspect which is also invaluable – especially for those wishing to work in an international setting – is language skills. The world is becoming small in many ways and there is an increasing need for people who can engage in a local setting. For example, people who are going out to work on the many environmental and sustainability opportunities around the Rio World Cup will find that having Portuguese is of huge advantage at the moment.
Many international NGOs are more professional & better funded now than a decade ago which is allowing them to focus better on more extensive studies as they can prove the value this delivers. For example WWF can actively go out to site and undertake studies in a more comprehensive way than in the past. Private sector companies like Rio Tinto who might be developing a mine in Equatorial Guinea are also undertaking studies as part of their CSR and at the same time you’ll have the national government also working on the environmental studies, perhaps employing private consultancy firm. This gives a three-fold layering of the work to ensure that what’s done is understood and fully scrutinised, and comes back to needing those same strong research techniques – which for graduates opens career doors.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE LEAVING UNIVERSITY, LOOKING FOR A JOB IN CONSERVATION OR ECOLOGY, AND NOT KNOWING WHERE TO START?
Be persistently proactive. It sounds very cheesy, but it’s the most fundamental advice which I give people day-in day-out. Getting a good job is never easy, regardless of the level you are at in your career. To really maximize your chances you need to actively network, attend conferences, volunteer and even just approach people who may have authored a report you find interesting.
But it’s not just being proactive like this it’s being persistently proactive. The more avenues you try the higher your likelihood of success. A lot of people do get dispirited, and that is natural, but the best ones are those who can push through that and reap the rewards which come further down the line. If it takes six months to find the right job, over the course of a whole career or forty or fifty years it’s small fish really. So persist.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SONG?
This post first appeared on Conservation Careers.