Turning a passion for environmental conservation into a thriving and fulfilling career is the logical step for most budding eco warriors. This often amounts to pursuing careers focused on the preservation or restoration of the environment – or green jobs.
Preparing to enter the workplace and building a successful career in any environmental field requires a wide range of skills that not many students are equipped with during their studies.
It’s these qualities and expertise that employers across sectors are after, and those hoping to get a foot through the green economy gate, enjoy a successful career and make meaningful contributions to South Africa’s environmental sector would do well to develop them.
“I believe employers in the environmental sector are looking for people who will be able to advocate for the environment, outside of and within their working spaces,” says Noxolo Mdedelwa (pictured below), a B.Sc. student at the University of Fort Hare majoring in Biochemistry, Botany and Microbiology, adding that achieving this requires that individuals receive the right kind of support.
Mdedelwa is a GreenMatter Fellow – an initiative aimed at nurturing future generations of suitably skilled biodiversity specialists, researchers, and professionals. The Fellowship supports the development of biodiversity leaders through a series of skills programmes designed to empower individuals to pursue sustainable and successful careers in their chosen field.
“Everything I learned through the Fellowship got me to where I am now,” says Mdedelwa. “My confidence and self-esteem were boosted. I know my weaknesses, I know how to write plans and proposals, and I know how to approach talking to different individuals. We even had mentors who were always available to offer support and guidance.”
Connecting to a wider network of professionals in the field you hope to work in, especially in a mentorship capacity, is also a great way to boost your knowledge of the field and how it functions, as well as what it takes to succeed in the environmental workplace sector.
And, while the term ‘soft skills’ leads many people to believe that this particular set of skills is non-essential, it is in fact a key aspect of any role, and an increasingly important requirement among employers in the environmental sector. Given the uncertainty that we face as a planet, these people will be tasked with leading South Africa towards a sustainable future for all citizens.
“Most green jobs require people to work together in teams to come up with the right solutions to any given challenge. More importantly, the major environmental challenges that we face and will face in future require organisations to collaborate to tackle these challenges head on. In this way we can see why being able to collaborate and work well with others is a vital skill, and not just a nice-to-have,” says Janavi Da Silva, Director of Programmes at GreenMatter.
Interpersonal (people) skills, communication skills, listening skills, time management, and empathy, says Da Silva, are just as important as technical skill and scientific know-how for green jobs.
“Building a sustainable career in environmental fields requires a holistic approach to skills development. Individuals should not limit themselves to professional skills development, but should work towards personal development too,” she says.
“The success we see among GreenMatter Fellows who have flourished and built incredibly fruitful careers is evidence of the importance of having access to skills development programmes that support individuals in developing the whole person. These individuals develop emotional intelligence, learn business etiquette and even how to manage their personal finances, all of which contribute to their success,” she concludes.