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Blog: It’s Not Just About Learning – We Need Better Sustainability Careers Advice

Fri 5th May 2017 - Blog Posts

Rebecca Petford lives in Fife and works for the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges’ Scotland Office, based in Queen Margaret University in Musselburgh. EAUC support universities and colleges to meet their sustainability obligations and push further to make their environmental and social impacts increasingly positive, through training and networking events and development of tools and resources.

In this blog post she talks about her own struggle to find job opportunities after being bitten by the sustainability bug at university, and introduces the Careers in Sustainability resources her team have developed to support students and job-seekers facing the same problem.

I studied sustainable development at University, making me a Jack of all trades but master of none. To explain, I know a little about a lot of things and how they interact, but have no focused area of knowledge.  That might seem to be quite useful for society (and you would think perhaps pub quizzes, but unfortunately that hasn’t worked in my case) but it does make job hunting, and explaining my degree to others, quite difficult.

In my final year at University I started to think seriously about where I might be headed after graduation. I really struggled to find jobs that I felt prepared for, despite the wide range of skills developed through assignments over my degree, which would also allow me to apply the breadth of knowledge I had developed to make the world a better place. Everything was organised into discipline areas, from job websites to careers guidance, and “saving the world” just doesn’t count as a profession. The choice for a job in sustainability was often environmental health or social work, with nothing between combining social and environmental aspects.

The way guidance and job hunting was set up just didn’t work for me, or many of my classmates. But actually, as I’ve learned since from colleagues and friends also working in sustainability, people with a disciplinary background and strong sustainability values also struggle to find careers advice and opportunities to support them to move into jobs in this area.

Luckily, because of opportunities I had developed while studying, I didn’t struggle for too long to find a job which was both relevant to my degree and personally fulfilling, and since then have worked in a variety of sustainability and creative community development roles. I now work for EAUC-Scotland where I am able to wear the ‘Jack of all trades’ hat quite happily, given the variety of sustainability activity we support in colleges and universities.

At EAUC-S I found the perfect avenue to pour my sustainability careers guidance / job hunting angst – the Careers in Sustainability project. The project aim was to train careers advisors to understand sustainability as a learning topic and job area better. Over a couple of years, lots of meetings, intense trawling of websites (given the number of jobs with interesting titles and job descriptions I’ve seen over the past two years, in everything from community food growing to research into renewable energy, it’s a miracle I’m still happily working for EAUC!) and a lot of support from my colleagues after role changes within my team, things have significantly progressed, and we are now nearing the end of the project.

I’m pleased to say that sustainability job hunting options have also progressed over the last few years, with the rise of dedicated websites and Twitter handles such as Goodmoves and EnvironmentJob, and also an increase in tagging of listings making finding relevant roles slightly easier to find despite the sector-focused structure. But to take advantage of this you need to know where to look, and resources supporting understanding sustainability jobs and how to prepare for one are still lacking.

With this in mind, we have compiled a series of resources, aimed a careers and student advisors but also students and teaching staff, which explore three different areas of jobs and careers in sustainability:

  1. Understanding
  2. Preparing for
  3. Finding and Winning

Each area is available to all as a downloadable PDF from the EAUC’s Sustainability Exchange, supplemented by a webinar (turned into a video resource after the date). We hope that students and their advisors will download them, read them, share them, and better understand what jobs in sustainability are all about.

If I was asked to pull out a key message from the resources which also harks back to my own experience, it would be that although jobs in sustainability might seem hard to understand or find given the breadth of the subject, if you are interested in developing your understanding or working in this area then there are so many varied opportunities, no matter your educational background.

However, these resources are just a small drop in an ocean structured by discipline and job sector. Sustainability teaching is beginning to gain traction in breaking down disciplines and making learning more holistic, but if we are to develop a more sustainable society it is vital we don’t lose students or school leavers (or mid-career job changers) with an interest in sustainability by not providing the resources and opportunities they need to take the next step towards a career in sustainability.

If you are interested in discussing this further, and perhaps joining an LfSS Working Group on Learning for Sustainability and Employability to plan action we can take to support this process, then please get in touch.