There is clear evidence that the ecology and environmental management employment sector is approaching a critical point. A shortage of applicants for key posts, especially at senior levels, is leading to mounting pressure impacting the health and wellbeing of staff as well as jeopardising the delivery of a Green Recovery. Nature recovery initiatives and development activity ranging from small-scale projects through to large-scale and critical infrastructure is at serious risk of delays due to a severe shortage of skilled and experienced ecologists.
Cause and Effects
The causes of the shortage are largely rooted in the financial crash from 2008 onwards when there was a lack of recruitment into, and progression within, the sector. Those who would have entered the profession at that point would be ready for the more senior roles that cannot now be filled. The consequences of this shortage are being felt throughout our industry and are interlinked.
Job-hopping: The shortage of senior staff is encouraging those that do have the necessary skills and experience to move quickly from one employer to another, understandably tempted by the relatively high salaries being offered. This results in a loss of continuity for clients and customers, costly delays to projects and employers being less willing to invest in training and development for staff they suspect will not stay very long.
Health and wellbeing: The field survey season is always challenging but this year has been the most extreme yet as many organisations struggled to catch up with work delayed by the pandemic. Unacceptably heavy workloads, staff shortages and tight deadlines are combining to undermine the health and wellbeing of many of those trying to deliver to the normal high standards.
Recruitment and retention: People are voting with their feet, unwilling to put their health at risk for working conditions that are unacceptable and unsustainable. They are leaving the industry or, if at the start of their careers, taking the decision to look elsewhere having seen and heard reports from those within the sector about the reality of these roles.
Time to change
CIEEM believes that things have to change urgently and significantly if we are to protect the health and wellbeing of those in the profession, create a more diverse and inclusive profession that people from all backgrounds want to be part of and ensure the best outcomes for biodiversity and society from the work that we do. A Green Recovery, achieving net zero and transition to a nature positive economy are dependent on a talented and valued environmental workforce able to do their best work, providing the advice, taking the decisions and making the innovations that society needs.
Whilst we recognise that it is not a professional body’s role to find and implement solutions to workforce shortages, the welfare and inclusivity of the profession is our concern. Over the next few months CIEEM will be bringing together employers from across the sector to identify what changes can be made to protect the profession and its people from the impacts of these challenges and how CIEEM can help. Doing nothing is not a credible option.