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Sustainability Fortnight: Careers in Energy

Joe SSprecher15 March 2019

Careers in Energy Panellists

The 18th February saw Sustainability Fortnight kick off with a panel event exploring careers in the energy sector. Our panellists were:

We heard from each panellist about their career path and the decisions that led them to their current roles – to hear their stories, you can read their biographies and view the event recording.

The speakers had plenty of advice for current students – and what you can do now to shape your own career.

Networking

Every single member of the panel cited the importance of networking, and several mentioned the connections they built by attending events such as this one. University career events bring professionals straight to your doorstep and make it easier than ever to engage with people in the industry. You can always reach out to them for a coffee or a phone call in the future, as many of them are happy to help and to give their advice. And don’t forget LinkedIn! Sara from XCO2, who also lectures at the University of Suffolk, reminded everyone to make sure your profile is up to date and filled out, and to use it to make connections with new contacts, as well as keeping up with old one. She estimated that 75% of her job roles came from ex-colleagues and references, so make sure you keep contact open with your professors and colleagues as you move between organisations. Charlotte, from the Renewables Consulting Group, added how useful your university’s alumni network can be. You can join UCL alumni network and find access to thousands of past students, many of whom are now offering mentorship opportunities.

Keep your goals in mind

“Follow your values”, recommended Ben, from Azuri Technologies. “Create your own mental checklist of what you want and stick to it when you’re job hunting. Keep a shortlist of the companies you’re interested in rather than jobs”. He went on to urge the importance of focusing matching your values to the organisations you’re applying to, and suggested signing up to their job feeds or newsletters, as well as attending their events.  Fiona suggested starting with research into how many types of companies there are in the energy sector, and to look at the Energy Institute and similar organisations – they often have student groups and networking events.

Sara pointed out that “Your first job might not be the one you want, but keep your ideas guiding you. Learn from each role.” She and Fiona both emphasised the importance of keeping an open mind, both about the type of company and the type of role you might be interested in. All of the panellists encouraged the benefits of “portfolio careers” and experimenting – particularly in a field as dynamic and changing as the energy sector.

Focus on your own development

“Soft skills are important”, Charlotte advised – practice your public speaking and writing skills.

Ben offered some pointers on the importance of feedback – “Feedback is golden. Ask your peers for feedback when working on group projects. Don’t take it to heart but try and develop from it.”

As always, don’t forget to tailor your cover letters! Jean-Paul, from Zenobe Energy, acknowledged that having to write them can of course be horrible – so don’t waste your efforts, and make sure they are tailored to the job and the skills.

Stay resilient

“Don’t be let down by rejection”, advised Jean-Paul. He also encouraged students to continue to go to events and to keep talking to people – you never know what will lead to an opportunity. Fiona echoed this: “Don’t take rejection personally, sometimes it’s just about timing.” Sometimes re-applying to an organisation later on might yield a very different outcome.

Want to learn more? You can find event recordings and resources from previous Themed Weeks on our website.

Sustainability in the Built Environment

Chloe JAckroyd20 February 2019

Sara Godinho Senior Consultant at XCO2 and Lecturer at University of Suffolk

(*Spoiler alert: my career path has been a bumpy one, filled with trial and error. I don’t regret a single thing as every experience was valuable but hasn’t definitely been a straight line!)

I decided to study Architecture (MArch University of Lisbon) as I was told by a high school career advisor that it would be the best way to combine my creative and artistic side with my analytical thinking. It wasn’t really! While I liked studying Architecture it never really fulfilled me. During my studies, I had a module on Environmental Design that caught my attention. It sparked curiosity and interest in sustainability and environmental design that hasn’t fade.

After graduating and working for a couple of years in my home town Lisbon, I decided to move to London. I was always very oriented to international experiences, I did Erasmus in Norway, studied in Japan for a year, so it was only a matter of time before going abroad again. I was also increasingly frustrated as an architect only focusing on design and ignoring the environmental impact. I really wanted to make a difference and work on making buildings more environmentally friendly. London was an easy choice because after living in Japan, I understood how European I am. I also had a good English level and the UCL MSc Environmental Design and Engineering programme seemed really good. Coming to the UK was a breath of fresh air! The master was a lot of hard work but one of the best years of my life. I learned a lot, made great friends, and had a real “this is it” epiphany as this was the area I wanted to be working on!

I decided to stay after graduation but had a tough time getting a job, it took me about six months and a lot of rejection. I was trying to enter this new sector and was also a foreigner. I got interviews and having UK education helped but everybody kept seeing me as an architect with no UK work experience. I decided to change my strategy and got a job in an architecture practice. It was small and specialised in Passivhaus and was a great learning experience. I got to work on site delivering one of the most demanding energy certifications in the world on a project that has now received a CIBSE Building Performance Award! At the time, the practice had also some research funding so I was lucky to work on Post Occupancy Evaluation of Passivhaus buildings and study their actual performance. It also confirmed that I was less interested in the design and more on the performance so, a couple of years in, I decided to try to move into environmental consultancy. Having now UK work experience made change easier and I finally made it into consultancy work. Funnily for my current job at XCO2 my architectural background was valuable to them as we work with a lot of architects and, being trained in their language, is helpful.

At XCO2, my role is to lead on the energy and sustainability strategies for a project, being a masterplan, new built or refurbishment. My work focuses on reducing the environmental impact of the construction industry, improving buildings’ energy efficiency and performance while promoting occupant wellbeing. Buildings are such complex and beautiful constructions and we spend most of our time inside one so it’s really gratifying when my advice contributes to improving a building’s energy performance or occupant comfort.

Teaching came by serendipity into my life two years ago. Through connections, I saw that the University of Suffolk was looking for a Lecturer in Technology. I applied and got selected and immediately panicked! Would I be able to do it? Instead, I absolutely loved it from day one and teaching has been incredibly transformative for my career. Being able to digest all my knowledge and experience into teaching has made realise how passionate I am about sustainability in the built environment and how much it matters to me to pass on the concepts and the skills and influence future architects. I don’t see sustainability in the built environment as an add-on but as an absolutely fundamental aspect of design. I want my students (and everybody!) to know of the impact buildings have in the environment and in our wellbeing and give them tools to thinks and create better ways of designing.

Although balancing two jobs can be demanding with conflicting needs at times, they absolutely complement each other. My industry experience means I can bring very practical knowledge to my students and teaching requires me to translate difficult concepts into comprehensible principles. It keeps me very aware of the bigger picture and my focus on improving sustainability in the built environment.

 

 

 

Insights into Consultancy for Sustainability

Chloe JAckroyd20 February 2019

Tim Curtis profile

Tim Curtis Managing Director at Ricardo Energy & Environment

What does consultancy work involve?

Like many things in life, the answer is “it depends”!  …on the company you work for, the sector you work in and the specific clients you are engaged by.

From my experience, there are some common themes in the working life of an environmental consultant:

  • Resilience is key. People in consultancy businesses work under continuous pressure. There is the pressure to deliver excellent work for a customer to time and budget.  They also need to win the next piece of work and respond to the demands of working in and across teams.  So, consultancy work is tough, but it can be tremendously rewarding.
  • Communication skills are critical. Even at the most junior level, you will be in a project team, likely to be talking to clients and will get exposure to senior management, so the ability to articulate what you are doing in an engaging and compelling way is key.
  • Contribution to the Team is paramount – that might be a small project team, a business area or the company as a whole. Work is very fluid in consultancies, and people are expected to get involved when there is a need and where they can add something.
  • Variety is energising – if you have an enquiring mind and like doing new things regularly, then consultancy can be really exciting. Projects tend to be from a couple of weeks to 6 months so you will be moving swiftly from one project to another.  And, you will often need to juggle multiple projects.
  • Environment as a topic is inspiring. People love working for an environmental consultancy because they know they are making a difference.  A couple of examples:
    • We recently completed a knowledge transfer energy project in Bangladesh. As a result, the power sector leaders and experts will be able to maximise access to electricity for the 165 million people in Bangladesh.
    • We looked at how to improve the management of surface water run-off treatment options for Southampton Airport (including a lot of chemicals used to de-ice planes). As a result, we have protected aquatic wildlife by preventing chemicals going into the local river.

What sectors does your company provide consultancy for? Can you give some examples of the issues and projects that a sustainability consultancy tackles?

At Ricardo, we work across most of the environmental areas: climate change, energy, waste, scarce resources, water, air quality, sustainable transport, agriculture, biodiversity, environmental impact, chemicals.

Our clients are many and various – national and local governments, major corporations and heavy industry, transportation providers, infrastructure and utility companies, international agencies and funders (eg the World Bank). But also smaller companies and not-for-profits.

The work of environmental consultancies is best illustrated by some examples of our projects:

  1. Combining smart grids and electric vehicles in Brighton, UK
    This project entailed creation of a charge-point roll-out strategy for EV charging infrastructure in Brighton.  A critical element was use of smart grid technology to unlock spare capacity for increased numbers of electric vehicles (automated transfer of electricity to areas of high demand).  Through this we were able to maximise the power available from existing infrastructure, hence avoiding costly network reinforcement or substation replacement.
  1. Supporting a State Government in Australia to assess the implications of transitioning to a Circular Economy (CE)
    This project looked at the implications of transition to a Circular Economy (designing waste out of the economy) across eight key sectors, identifying global trends and potential local action. This brought together key experts from the fields of waste, water, sustainable transport, energy efficiency, resource use and advanced manufacturing. The project provided global insight into actions and best practice activities from across the key sectors, identifying potential implications, barriers and enablers of a circular economy.
  1. Integrated environment programme for Liaoning Environmental Protection Board (China)
    The aim of this project was to tackle the interrelated issues of pollution abatement, economic modernisation and social redeployment within Liaoning Province.  Ricardo led the Air Quality Management component of the project that:
  • Established comprehensive emission inventories at city and provincial level
  • Delivered training and capacity strengthening
  • Developed effective ambient and source (of pollution) measurement programmes, dispersion modelling and GIS based environmental information systems
  • Developed economic models for the cost-benefit analysis and design of optimal emission control and mitigation strategies

What range of skills  and what academic subjects does your company look for when hiring for consultancy roles?

The kinds of skills we need are quite varied:

Environmental policy analysis Economic evaluation
Modelling /monitoring (eg air and water) Technology development (eg software products and tools)
Evaluation of technology performance Data management (eg inventories)
Engineering (mechanical / electrical / chemical) Digital resilience for critical infrastructure
Pollution incident management Digital services (IT development)
Life Cycle Assessment Finance
Health Impact Assessment Marketing

So, we have some very specialist and deep technical skill requirements, some more broad research and investigation skills, + more generic areas like economics, IT, finance and marketing.

Therefore, the range of academic subjects we recruit from is wide, and role dependent.  Most people we take on will be at Masters level, and many will have a scientific or engineering background, but not all.

What are the challenges for the environmental sector in future, and what impact will they have on consultancy work?

That is a huge question!  I am going to cheat by providing a link to an excellent slideshow that you can look at, recently produced by the World Resources Institute.

The key issues identified in the slideshow can be summarised as:

  • Tumultuous times: will geopolitics limit climate action?
  • Bracing for impacts: will climate adaptation rise up the agenda?
  • Sustainable apparel: will fast fashion slow down?
  • Deforestation: will commodity supply chains rise to the challenge?
  • Project of the century: will Belt & Road advance green growth?
  • Micro-mobility: a fad or the future?
  • US Climate action: turning the tide on Trump?

So, these are major global themes……what might they mean for international environmental consultancy opportunities:

  • Global emissions are rising……1.5 degrees temperature rise is not far away…..might be more about adapting to than mitigating climate change in the future?
  • Focus on cities/states as clients (and key actors)……when historically it may have been national governments.
  • Need for more attention on water management (eg enormous water footprint of fashion industry – 2,700 litres for one shirt).
  • China’s “Belt and Road” initiative is huge – opportunities for consultancy (and risks to environment)?
  • Biodiversity expertise needed in response to deforestation.
  • Changes to urban mobility strategies and plans in response to behaviour change.
  • Need for “blended” solutions of public and private finance across all areas.

This agenda appears to provide an enormous range of potential opportunities…….and it does.  However, there is a but………as a consultant, you can only do the work that clients want to engage you for, and global risks can take time to feed into consultancy projects.

In environmental consultancy, the topics are fascinating, challenging, enlightening and rewarding, but you need someone who has a budget to engage you to do the work.  So “thought leadership” in helping the wider world to appreciate the issues and the opportunities is key to open the conversations with potential clients. The ideal approach is to seed ideas, get their interest and then offer a solution……that is the art of being a great consultant.

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Sustainability Fortnight: What you can expect

Joe SSprecher8 February 2019

Sustainability is a big deal. It’s one of the most pressing challenges we face today and many of us want to get involved through impactful careers.

The UCL Careers Sustainability Fortnight is designed to give you insights into the roles, rewards and routes into this rapidly developing sector. Here can you develop you understanding of the business issues and global challenges of the sustainability sector, preparing you for career in the field.

Interested in tackling sustainability in NGOs, businesses and governments?

Employers look for graduates who can:

  • Analyse real-world situations critically
  • Understand international issues in a global world
  • Demonstrate ethical leadership
  • Work within different social contexts
  • Engage with a diverse range of people
  • Use resources and budgets wisely

If you have the skills needed to tackle global challenges, you will be well placed to find employment across the sector. Employers are looking for sustainability conscious employees  across the entire organisation – not just in ‘sustainability’ roles. Whether that’s understanding climate risks in an investment portfolio or Modern Day Slavery issues within recruitment roles.

What’s on:

  • Panel talks and lectures from sustainability experts and professionals
  • Q&A sessions so you can have your questions answered
  • Bike sale and maintenance events
  • UCL Sustainability tours
  • Hot-topic discussions
  • Business forums

What you will learn:

  • How do organisations define sustainability
  • Inform yourself with the chance to challenge business representatives at panel and networking events
  • What Corporate Social Responsibility really means
  • How to be an Environmental Auditor
  • What skills you need to be competitive in the sustainability job market
  • The future trends for the energy or construction markets
  • How different sectors are moving towards a sustainable future

Sustainability is a realistic, interesting and prosperous career path with has many routes in. With a broad range of roles available, there will be something to suit anyone with an interest in the sector.

Find out for yourself at one of our events!

  See what’s on and book your place today!

 

Careers in Energy & Sustainable Resource Forum round ups

ManpreetDhesi25 February 2015

Did you miss the UCL Institute for Sustainability and the UCL Energy Institutes Careers forums during our Environment week? Fear not, Laura Firmin from UCL Careers has written a round up for you:

Institute for Sustainability Careers in Energy Networking Event

A wide variety of speakers from sustainable energy consultancies and SMEs working within the sustainable planning and architecture arena each invited the audience to look back with them through their career journey that has led them to where they work now.

Some top career tips from this event:

  1. Use an analytical mind-set to break apart your current or previous work experience to decide exactly what it is you did/ didn’t like about that role. Was it the working hours? The people you worked with? Were you using your strengths? The manner in which your efforts were recognised? Use these insights to assess the suitability of the job you’re applying to.
  2. Weigh up your interest in the sector with what the job is actually asking you to do day-to-day.
  3. If you’re a researcher, or doing a PhD, start building your network by proactively approaching companies who may be interested in your research and offer to present what you are working on to them. Many companies run lunchtime lectures in which you could do this and you can achieve many outcomes at once:
    1. You get to practice your presentation skills in preparation for your poster talk/ VIVA
    2. You are effectively promoting yourself, the university and your work to interested employers in the area
    3. If you are feeling stuck in a rut – having to put something coherent together and getting out of the office may spark new insights.

This networking event brought together many London businesses working towards a sustainable future – especially around the built environment. This is a pressing issue for London and environmental jobs are not just out in the countryside; for those of you who want to continue saving the planet whilst living in this city – there are plenty of opportunities locally which could fulfil both these desires.

Careers in Sustainable Resources Thursday 12th February 2015

A great introduction by professor Paul Ekins created a focused atmosphere with an injection of humour and warmth.

Top tips to come from the night’s speakers were as follows:

  1. Nick Lakin, Group Head of Government Affairs at Kingfisher suggested that many graduates entering the sustainability sector are likely to have big ideas for the future of their world. His advice is to balance ideas with practicality. Change is not always easy as holding a belief in a particular approach – so be pragmatic and be ready to adjust your idea so that you can collaborate with others.
  2. Joshua Davies, Graduate Sustainability Consultant at URS-AECOM reminded the audience of the importance of gaining varied work experience. If you are looking to get into consulting – your variety of work experience and expertise will enable you to work on lots of different client projects. Stay proactive to avoid limiting your knowledge bank.

Many multi-national companies run consult on environmental and sustainability issues and have whole departments dedicated to the sector. However, even if you are hired to work in that department, you may also be required to work in other areas of the business where need occurs. So, be open-minded and consider whether your green values are matched throughout the business.