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Developing your career: Environment and development

Environment-related issues affect every aspect of our lives – from local decisions about waste management to the global challenges of climate change and international development. Employers are increasingly looking for people with the knowledge and understanding needed to stay ahead in this fast-changing and critically important area – whether their interest is scientific, economic, social, political or cultural. Roles are varied and rewarding, scoring highly for job satisfaction, according to the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.

Environmentalists sampling river

By gaining an environment-related qualification you’ll develop a range of skills that future employers are looking for and, when combined with relevant work experience (paid or unpaid), employment opportunities could open up for you in a wide range of public, private and voluntary sector organisations including:

  • environmental management
  • environmental policy
  • environmental consultancy
  • environmental education
  • nature conservation
  • information systems
  • civil or diplomatic service
  • governmental and non-governmental bodies (national and European)
  • overseas development
  • journalism
  • research
  • consultancy.

The environment sector is expected to grow markedly over the next decade and job creation is predicted in the areas of renewable energy, recycling and waste management, energy efficiency and construction. Other emerging career areas include environmental auditing and assessment; environmental management; and environmental engineering. It’s predicted that environmental management and resource efficiency will soon be fully integrated into jobs in much the same way as health and safety or equal opportunities are today.

In the area of international development, there may be roles in administration, advocacy, fundraising, research or relief work, while environmental scientists can find opportunities in pollution control, recycling, water quality, resource and energy management, sustainability, education and conservation.

Environment and development: example roles

  • nature conservation officer
  • countryside manager
  • environmental manager
  • environmental education officer
  • environmental consultant
  • waste management officer
  • recycling officer
  • water quality scientist
  • Foreign and Commonwealth officer
  • civil servant
  • diplomatic service officer
  • journalist
  • European Union official
  • immigration officer
  • international aid/development worker
  • volunteer co-ordinator
  • community development worker.

Sector understanding

For sector news, analysis and information visit The Environment Agency, the Welsh Government’s Environment and climate change pages, or the Scottish Government’s Environment pages. If you live in Ireland, visit the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government.

Understanding the jobs market

With such a diverse range of jobs related to environment and development, your career path will depend on your particular study focus and the experience you’ve gained. The Prospects website is a good place to start – see examples of job roles listed by subject or refer to the sector information for Charities and Voluntary work or Environment and Agriculture. You can also find jobs listings, voluntary opportunities, courses and events on the Environment Jobs website. If you live in Ireland look at the relevant information on career sectors and jobs with your degree on the GradIreland website.

How the OU can help

We offer a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses in environment-related subjects, including environmental management and technology, international studies, environmental technology and design and innovation.

Employers value the essential transferable skills developed by studying an Open University qualification, including confidence, communication, self-management, interpersonal and organisational skills; critical thinking and analysis; research and presentation skills; the ability to work under pressure and a willingness to learn.

OU environment and development courses will also help equip you with high level employability skills such as:
  • knowledge of the human and scientific causes and consequences of environmental change
  • the ability to collect, record and analyse data
  • knowledge of international and development issues relating to global poverty, conflict, health, economic and political transition, cultures, values, and technological change
  • ability to work towards sustainable solutions
  • the ability to carry out investigations in a responsible and safe manner
  • working well within groups, either face to face or online, recognising and respecting the views of others
  • analysing and planning tasks by using time effectively.

Getting started

If you’re not quite ready for degree-level study, our Science, technology and maths Access module (Y033) could be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s designed to build your confidence and study skills while introducing subject knowledge in the disciplines of science, engineering and design, environment, mathematics, and computing and ICT. By the end of the module, you’ll be well prepared to begin your first full OU course.

More about Access courses

Work experience

Many environment and development roles require significant experience in addition to a relevant qualification – and if you’re thinking of a career in international development, a combination of qualifications and practical experience is usually essential. Open University courses put you at a distinct advantage in this regard, as you’ll be encouraged to apply your learning immediately to your own role, and to build on your experience as a context for developing real-world knowledge and skills. However, if you’d benefit from additional settings in which to contextualise your learning, you could consider volunteering. To find out more, you can visit our voluntary work pages and the following national websites:

FACT: 90% of OU Environmental Studies graduates are in employment six months after they graduate