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A sea change in skills

What’s the link between recruitment and climate change? They may sound unrelated but by the end of this article you’ll see how leading businesses are making the link to protect the future prosperity of their business, and how it benefits all involved. 

HR Directors have a great opportunity to lead the way and ensure their organisations can meet these new challenges by upskilling in the right places. The world is changing rapidly around every business on the planet. A growing global population, reduced availability of natural materials, a volatile market for energy supply – not to mention the impacts of climate change – are all adding up to create a “perfect storm” of challenges, threats and limitations. Collectively these issues will not only affect businesses’ ability to operate but limit its ability to take advantage of opportunities to enhance competitiveness and productivity.

Quite simply, attracting the right people with the right capabilities – environment and sustainability skills – is the solution to protecting your business from these challenges. Many businesses have already recognised this and they are reaping the benefits; they are saving money on their annual energy spend, creating new revenue streams from handling waste differently and taking steps to make their business climate resilient. I know of one organisation in the North East that saved over £800,000 just by reviewing how they manage and remove waste from their site. What organisation can afford to ignore such opportunities?

Many UK Plcs are recognising these opportunities and are embedding environment and sustainability skills into the fabric of their business. Jonathan Garrett, CSR Director at Jaguar Land Rover, explains: “Investing in talented people is crucial to the sustainable growth of Jaguar Land Rover. We have doubled our workforce over the past five years to 34,000 people, including 2,000 graduates and apprentices. Embedding sustainability into our business plan and fostering a passion for ‘Environmental Innovation’ amongst our people has helped us achieve business success.” 

Every kind of organisation can and should benefit from these skills, as Martin Ballard of construction giant Willmott Dixon says: “The efficiency benefits from embedding environmental sustainability skills, which are specific to each individual’s role and professional discipline, are essential for resilience in the present and to meet future demands for a sustainable economy”. But where organisations like Jaguar Land Rover and Willmott Dixon are succeeding, many more are lagging behind. Right now, just 13 percent of organisations say they are confident they have the skills they need to face the “perfect storm”. Even more significant, 98 percent say that their suppliers have skills gaps in these areas – but it doesn’t have to be that way. While there is a gap in the supply of these invaluable environment and sustainability skills, there is an influx of people entering this profession, bringing a wealth of skills and experience.

Recent IEMA research found that 42 percent of environment and sustainability professionals consider themselves “career changers”. The reasons these people made the career move range from the altruistic “I want to make a difference” through to a recognition that this is a profession with real prospects -“Environment and sustainability has good career prospects”. HR Directors are not only recruiting vital skills for their organisation, they are also choosing people who have a passion and commitment to delivering excellent results. Satisfaction levels among this group are extremely high; 87 percent of career changers say they are either satisfied or very satisfied with their choice of career change.

The key skills to look for to ensure your company can capitalise on the benefits that environment and sustainability professionals can bring include – experience of environmental management systems, data analysis, stakeholder engagement skills and financial awareness. These can be found by looking in the right places. Recruitment agencies (, Acre Resources, JSM Associates) specialise in matching environment and sustainability professionals and the organisations who need them. And it’s simple to align the skills you need with the person you’re looking for; the IEMA Environmental Skills Map provides an ideal metric for HR Directors to identify what level of skill you should expect at each stage of experience.

Environment & Sustainability roles are clearly becoming the career change of choice and many businesses are now on board with creating these rewarding roles. This influx of career changers is helping to bridge the skills gap and enable businesses to face a series of challenges that are coming down the track. With these growing demands on business and a career built upon high levels of satisfaction Environment & Sustainability is clearly the ‘go-to profession’. It is up to HR Directors to ensure your organisation attracts these skills and is equipped and prepared to face the perfect storm.The majority of us at work are snowed under and rushing. Tasks, meetings, emails and stress pile up. We’re too busy doing to use our time efficient. Our addiction to action (busy work) might give a chemical rush or vague temporary satisfaction but isn’t a solution.


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