Transferable skills as a boost to employment

Logo: Merseyside BioBank

By Ben Deed - Manager, Merseyside BioBank

Ours is an unusual sector. Crossing the often ill-defined borders of Public, Private and Third and each with their own wants and needs. Jobs are often specialised and can be few and far between, training expensive for someone just starting out or looking to re-train.

Ben Deed
Ben Deed

How then do those that dream of working in the environmental sector train in suitable skills to successfully navigate hurdles and meet requirements?

As a Local Environmental Records Centre Manager I have worked with a great many individuals coming through the doors, asking just these types of questions. The volunteers we work with come from a range of backgrounds from bar work and bins to other professional sectors and academia. We are fortunate that many do find their way into relevant professional employment and there are perhaps a few things that can be recognised as having given them that edge.

For a start don’t underestimate skills you’ve already acquired! The mindset of many on the careers path is that they would love to work outside and engage with the environment. It is easy to become a little blinkered about what skills you need to do that and often those early on the career path will look only at species identification skills or field work.

An environmental profession is a profession similar to any other sector in that key skills are just as important. Interpersonal skills like communication, IT literacy, punctuality and the ability to teamwork and self-organise remain vital. These are all skills that could be picked up and developed at any stage through your life. Perhaps you helped organise a university society or are the go to IT genius for your family. Maybe you joined with or brought together your local community to fundraise or hold an event. It doesn’t matter where you got it from; if you’ve got it shout about it.

I left university without particularly good grades but with a wealth of experience in bar and shop work. Needing to bring in the pounds I went with what I knew and before long found myself working in bars in Manchester. However, I never lost my love of the environment or my desire to work in this sector so began to apply for positions. In the meantime I spent time volunteering with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust (LWT) as a conservation volunteer. Later I took on my own projects on behalf of the Trust and eventually found some work as a part-time assistant ecologist.

Punctuality was crucial, self-organisation and a willingness to learn also important, that interest, self-motivation and commitment really does help you to stand out.

A year or so later the position at Merseyside BioBank came up, an IT job that required the provision of support to volunteers in the office and in the field. Here my interest in computing (but still somewhat basic knowledge!) complemented a love of the environment and the interpersonal and administrative skills picked up from my time in the bars and hotels of Manchester and a commitment to wildlife and volunteering shown through my work with the LWT. That got me in the door and from there I have specialised. However, it was those cross-cutting skills, backed by a commitment and self-motivation that got me on the way.

Find out more about Merseyside BioBank at

Some further experience

Richard Burkmar
Richard Burkmar

Dr Richard Burkmar - BioLinks Project, Field Studies Council

Although I gained a PhD in ecology and worked briefly in conservation, I spent most of the first 15 years of my working life in the IT sector. When I decided that I wanted to switch back to ecology and conservation, the key realisation I made was that my previous education and experience in ecology counted for little - I had been out of the loop for too long. So I embarked on a skills-based MSc in biological recording and cut my working hours as a programmer to enable me to spend a day a week volunteering in the conservation sector. This did the trick: where I had been getting little response to job applications, I now got some interviews, eventually leading to a job looking after a Local Biodiversity Action Plan.

I think that the most important thing wasn't the MSc itself - I hadn't completed the course at that point - but the commitment demonstrated by both the MSc and, particularly, the regular volunteer work.

Find out more about the Biolinks Project from FSC at

Lessons Learned?

While we have different routes into the sector we have both found professional employment and made the most of skills we have learned both in previous employment and as general life skills.

Skills developed in life and in previous employment can complement and strengthen an application so never sell yourself short. Talking down an irate customer, balancing the books, performing a shop close show communications skills, attention to detail and responsibility.

You also benefit greatly from enthusiasm and self-motivation, the desire to want to do well, to deliver and improve. Someone who cares about what they are doing will apply themselves and develop over time. Many employers know they may not get all their desirables but a member of staff is an investment. If you can demonstrate that the fundamentals are there and back that up with genuine self-motivation for the position then you can really shine.

First published in CJS Focus on Employability in association with Lantra on 19 November 2018

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