Careers in Environmental Services: Some Observations by Jim Hathaway
In recent years I have been investigating environmental services in the US, with a focus on their geographic patterns and trends over time. The sprawling environmental sector is difficult to define. A scheme I prefer puts environmental services into three categories of professional service providers (this includes environmental consulting), environmental contractors, and operations and management services with ten subcategories. These firms vary tremendously in size from large corporations to boutique operations. Much environmental work is carried out by divisions within large engineering and contracting firms. Also, it is not unusual for one firm to operate in several subcategories. I have assembled a list of environmental firms in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania region that roughly follows this scheme.
As I have researched environmental services, I have come across information that may be of use to students interested in environmental employment. In particular, as a perusal of our alumni pages shows, a fair number of students from my department find work in environmental consulting. This IBISWorld page and Wikipedia article have concise overviews of environmental consulting. John Jengo provides the perspective of a practitioner and shows the actual nuts and bolts of what an environmental consultant does. His article was published in The Professional Geologist (Jan/Feb 2005): click here and then go to page 53. The purpose of the 56 Stories blog is to give "insights from other recently hired consultants – folks that were just like you not long ago, as well as a peek into the activities of more experienced staffers." The article by Jengo noted above addresses several ethical concerns that consultants face, and this theme is taken on directly in Kevin Doyle's Remake a Living: Consulting with the Devil, published in the environmental portal grist. "So You Need To Be a Consultant" by Richard MacLean about someone wishing to make a transition from a firm to operating on their own shows what's involved in the profession and should let newcomers to the field know that consulting on your own is something you do in mid career. Another way of looking at environmental consultants is from the perspective of a firm looking to select an environmental consulting firm for assistance with an environmental project. Here's a short piece from Pollution Engineering and another from Long Island Business News.
The outlook for environmental consulting had recently seemed quite positive. For example, The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasted growth "much faster than average" for the field. The BLS does not have a category called environmental consulting, instead its analysis of the field is in the two categories of Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services and Environmental Scientists and Hydrologists. Many environmental consulting firms include GIS and mapping specialists, and the BLS forecasted growth much faster than average for Surveyors, Cartographers, Photogrammetrists, and Surveying and Mapping Technicians. These three reports contain much useful information in addition to employment forecasts. The online magazine Environmental Protection: Pollution and Waste Treatment Solutions for Environmental Professionals has an annual unscientific but useful salary survey that includes anecdotal analysis of trends. Finally, here a link to an article about environmental management jobs pitched towards the grads of four Master's programs with environmental foci: http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/4/21/154539/284.
As of December 2008 the outlook has for environmental consulting has deteriorated because of the downturn in the economy. Nevertheless, environmental consulting will probably fare better than most other sectors of the economy. For example, Money included both environmental specialists and hydrologists in the top ten careers in their May 2008 article, Best careers to have in a recession. A President’s Council of Economic Advisers report from July 2009 discusses environmental occupations in some detail and concludes that "the environmental-related occupations – which are expected to experience tremendous growth over the next decade."