At school and college, you can start gaining knowledge about ecology and the environment through qualifications and experiences that could help you in a future career.
At school, ecology and environmental topics are often covered in Biology, Geography, or Science classes. At ages 14-16, options in these subjects are available to study either as a GCSE (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), National 5 (Scotland) or Junior Certificate subject (Ireland) depending on your country.
To provide more focus on ecology and the environment, there are several new subjects being developed including the Cambridge IGCSE Environmental Management, the Cambridge IGCSE Marine Science, and the new OCR GCSE Natural History.
The STEM Ambassador Programme (UK) helps schools bring STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to life through volunteers who share their knowledge and experience. Ask your school or education provider if they could have a STEM Ambassador visit.
If you are considering a career in academia or know you want to go to university, then the go-to next step for many is studying relevant subjects at A-Levels (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), Scottish Highers (Scotland) or the Leaving Certificate (Ireland). There are a range of options available at this level, and options vary across different schools and colleges, so take a look at your local college and sixth form prospectuses to see what is on offer.
Ecology and environmental subjects can again be covered under the syllabus of Biology, Geography and other Science qualifications. More specific qualifications are also available at some locations, such as Environmental Science. This may be offered as an academic qualification (such as this Environmental Science A Level offered by AQA), or a more vocational qualification such as a BTEC.
What if you’ve not chosen a ‘relevant’ subject?
Many people who end up in a Green Job for Nature did not take directly relevant subjects at this level of their studies (browse our job profiles to find examples). Given the range of career opportunities available, the experience of studying subjects at this level can allow an individual to tailor their skills development in a way that suits them. Studying Graphic Communication, Arts or Languages, for example, could suit those looking to work in a Media and Communications role. Someone interested in Business studies may later become a Project Manager. And studying Law or Politics could lead someone to consider careers in Environmental Policy and Law.
However, it is worth noting that certain university degrees or apprenticeships may ask for specific qualifications in their entry requirements. To study for a scientific degree, you usually need to have studied at least one post-16 qualification in a science subject. This demonstrates that you have an interest as well as the basic knowledge, skills and experience to study at that next step.
If you have developed your interest after your initial post-16 studies, then there may be other ways to access certain higher education qualifications. For example, you could study an Access to Higher Education course in a relevant science. You could also consider taking a free online course with a provider such as FutureLearn.
Finally, there are also a range of vocational routes into a Green Job for Nature. This can be useful for many of the more hands-on careers which often ask for prior practical experience.
Land-based vocational courses are an alternative to academic qualifications and can help you gain the skills needed for a specific career. Courses can include practical elements as well as classroom-based learning. Vocational courses are offered at various levels and allow for progression to higher-level courses such as apprenticeships or some university degrees. Alternatively, for some, they may provide a more direct route into employment.
Courses available for ages 16-19 and above include BTECs in Countryside Studies, Forestry and Arboriculture, and Environmental Sustainability. These subjects may be provided by sixth forms and colleges.
City and Guilds also have many options such as Countryside and Environment, Environmental Conservation, and Game and Wildlife Management. These are sometimes available to study as part of a traineeship (usually aimed at over-18s). Traineeships are hosted by an organisation (such as an environmental NGO) which can provide the work experience needed to complete a portfolio of evidence for the qualification. Host organisations may also provide a bursary and support to complete the qualification. Traineeships can be searched for on websites listing job vacancies.
If you’re interested in vocational courses, then look at any vocational courses on offer at your local sixth forms, colleges and land-based colleges. If you need support looking through your options, then talk to a careers advisor for further guidance. Careers advisors work at some schools, colleges, local authorities and charities which support young people.
Whichever stage of your studies you are at, you can also look into short courses and other opportunities. There are a range of options out there, many of which are free for young people to access. Such opportunities may help you to develop a deeper understanding of the environment and the environmental sector. Examples include courses and residentials with the Field Studies Council (UK) and the Wildlife Trusts (UK).