From education to employment

How can apprenticeships help the next generation of environmentalists?

James Ennis, member of the Institute’s construction route panel

For National Careers Week, @IFATEched spoke to James Ennis, who is a member of the Institute’s construction route panel. Our route panels consist of employers who are experts in their industry. Their role is to review apprenticeship standards and technical qualifications so that they meet both employers’ and learners’ needs.

James tells us about his career, and how he got to where he is now, as a senior environmental consultant. He discusses how apprenticeships can not only help with social mobility but train up the next generation with the skills the country needs to transition towards a more sustainable future:

My career journey

I started on a three-month placement at Network Rail after graduating in 2009. From here, I took two further internal roles in the company, working as an environmental consultant.

In 2015, I moved to Arup as a senior environmental consultant. I have provided advice to a number of projects, such as the Tideway tunnel (London’s super sewer) and the High Speed 2 rail project.

I was also offered the opportunity to line manage Arup’s first environmental apprentice. This helped me develop my own management skills and to understand what was required to be a people manager early on in my career.  I also got to see, first hand, the benefits of apprenticeships.

I’m really proud to have recently obtained Chartered Environmentalist status. I have become a full member of the Institute for Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA). This provides me with external recognition of my experience and competence as an environmental professional over the past 10 years.

The next generation of environmentalists

I’m interested in seeing new ways of working, as well as improving social mobility and offering increased opportunity to take up roles in my sector.

The environmental consulting sector typically employs large numbers of graduates as the basis for its early careers recruitment. This limits entry opportunities for those who haven’t followed the traditional university route.

This approach can bring with it a very traditional approach to problem-solving.

Employing apprentices opens up the industry to a larger base of applicants. These applicants may not have had the inclination or financial support to obtain a university education – but they have tremendous potential and often a very different way of seeing and interpreting the world. My hope is that apprenticeships will make the industry more accessible, bringing new ways of thinking that will really benefit the sector.

If I were a school leaver, the apprenticeships on offer now would have offered a more appealing education path than university for me. Apprenticeships provide an opportunity to learn the soft skills of working in an organisation as well as the technical skills needed to carry out a job. You’re also generating an income, which makes this route a very attractive alternative to university!

Empowering the future workforce to recognise the climate emergency at hand

We are in a climate emergency. We are continuing to exploit natural resources at an unsustainable rate – and doing this despite the alarming predictions from scientists. We need to empower the future workforce to recognise such issues in their roles. Being able to contribute to a more sustainable future is a large piece of the puzzle in curbing humanity’s impact on the environment.

Everyone has an impact on the environment in their job (which can be big or small). If we can help people recognise this, and move away from unsustainable practices in the workplace, then this would be a positive achievement. It is important to address these issues now so that the practical change that is needed can take place before the opportunity is missed. The imperative to act now has never been more pressing.

James Ennis, member of the Institute’s construction route panel

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