New frontier of skills shortage: environmental jobs market

by Stephanie Zillman06 Jun 2012

environmental jobs marketBusinesses are bracing for the official implementation of the carbon tax on 1 July and HR may be the meat in the sandwich as approval to sign off on permanent roles in the green jobs space has been slow. Yet Tony Abbott conceded just this week that the carbon tax would be difficult, nay impossible, to repeal if the Coalition came to power. In short, planning for these roles starts now.

The introduction of the carbon tax will see a tax placed on pollution emissions. The related Clean Energy Future Bill plans to cut Australia’s emissions by 20% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. There will be huge fines for corporates that are guilty of non-compliance, and they will also be named and shamed by the government. One expert has said the need to employ skilled and experienced environmental planners has never been so crucial. “Assessing sustainability practices and implementing new policies should be at the forefront of a business planning to mitigate the risk of non-compliance, possibly resulting in heavy penalties,” Paul O’Brien from Kelly Scientific Resources Australia said.

According to Kelly Scientific, skilled environmental advisors will become more difficult to source and attract once the carbon tax is implemented. “The challenge Australian businesses face is that this sector is relatively new, which means current demand far outweighs the number of skilled and experienced professionals. This shortage is only going to get worse post the implementation of the carbon tax,” O’Brien added.

Until now, the carbon jobs market has been dictated by compliance, assurance and risk-based work, where the major listed entities have been more reactive to mandatory reporting as opposed to being proactive around longer term carbon and renewable energy based strategies. Longer term hiring strategies have, in part, been delayed due to political debate in Australia. However, the time has come to get serious about building management-level expertise within organisations, John Revie from specialist recruitment agency Carbon Jobs said.  “The challenge right now is there are many very good senior managers and directors in Australia who are carbon and corporate sustainability professionals. There are quite a lot of very strong consultant level people – but because the market has not developed as anticipated over the past four or so years, it’s that management level of expertise that has been missing,” Revie commented. He added that the ‘learn by doing’ adage has thus far been very important, and as such many companies have at least one senior in-house corporate sustainability leader – but the time has come to start building a team underneath those leaders.

For this reason, succession planning in this area of the business will become integral to current and future compliance needs. According to Revie, by 2025 sustainability leaders will have a firm seat at the boardroom table, and right into the C-suite as well. O’Brien urged business leaders to review their internal talent pool and develop in-house training where they can up skill existing staff with a view to succession planning for the future of these specialist roles.

As an example, according to Kelly Scientific, the typical role of a professional environmental planner includes:

  • Assessing all internal operations for sustainability purposes and advising on future best practice
  • Identifying, processing and compiling applications for environmental permits and approvals for energy management projects
  • Undertaking studies that may include environmental assessments, impact studies and field investigations
  • Writing management and planning documents
  • Interpreting and advising on license conditions and requirements for legislation
  • Negotiating with government agencies and other stakeholders regarding permits and approvals


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