From education to employment

Natural Apprenticeships

Natural England is the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England, helping to protect England’s nature and landscapes for people to enjoy and for the services they provide. Employing around 2000 staff, they are responsible for a range of work such as promoting nature conservation, and contributing to the management of the natural environment, amongst a diverse range of other environment-based activities.

As with many sectors, there are predictions that come 2020, there will be insufficient people with the skills needed to do ecological and environmental work (Lantra have said the sector will need to over 500,000 new entrants to the sector by 2020, mainly to replenish those retiring) . With this in mind, and an eye on where its future workforce will come from, Natural England have started using apprenticeships as a way to inspire people to forge a career in the environmental sector.

Natural England currently have 18 apprentices. 14 of these are doing a level 2 Diploma in Environmental Conservation (to Lantra standards) and 4 are doing a customer service qualification.  7 (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund) have recently completed their diplomas. (Importantly in these austere times, the HLF provided invaluable funding and support to help set up trainee ecological field skills programmes which have helped develop our apprenticeship programme). Most of the apprenticeships are based on Natural England’s National Nature Reserves as these provide opportunities to develop environmental field skills in a unique and often inspirational environment.

There a range of backgrounds within the current apprentice group, from ex-forces, through arboriculture and wildlife trusts, to art students.  And of those who have completed Natural England apprenticeships to date two have found jobs with Natural England, one joined the National Trust, and one has secured a role at Heligan. Natural England hope that their apprenticeships offer the chance for some to join the sector who may not have previously had access or inclination, and in the long term will bring fresh ideas and talent in to their organisation.

Apprentices are bringing some new perspectives, and those involved in their supervision have in some cases been re-energised by providing guidance and support.

More apprentices will be taken on over the next few years across a broader range of entry level roles – all still with a natural environment focus.  They anticipate taking on around 40 in 17/18. The future approach will be linked with Defra’s wider approach to apprenticeships (Defra are Natural England’s parent government department) and will be influenced by public sector targets (to be set for public service this October – we anticipate 2.3% of workforce) and the introduction of the apprentice levy in 2017. This all runs alongside the government initiative to provide three million new apprentices by 2020. 

Plans are currently underway to set a longer-term strategy and approach. As with many employers at the moment, there are a range of issues being considered (e.g. how to use apprenticeships for entry level roles, affordability, pay issues, level of qualification, supervision and support, and more). Natural England is likely to need to develop new awards to build skills specific to their needs as an employer, and will need to find partners to help with this.

As the numbers increase, Natural England will need to work with the FE sector to help promote these opportunities, to encourage more people to consider what can be immensely rewarding careers in the environmental sector.

Dan Pond, Principle Adviser, Natural England, Organisation Development team


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