Understandably, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) is the main player in this line of governmental work.
However, this is such a broad area that a wealth of different government agencies and authorities play an integral part in developing policy and delivering the government’s aims to maintain the safety and quality of the nation’s food, promote sustainability, conserve the environment and help rural industries to thrive.
The environment, food and rural affairs are a major priority for the UK government. A wealth of public sector organisations are, therefore, dedicated to helping the government achieve its objectives, including:
- Environment Agency
- Food Standards Agency
- Rural Payments Agency
- Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science
- Forestry Commission
- Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency
- Natural England
- Veterinary Medicines Directorate
- Food and Environment Research Agency.
Another central government department also gets in on the act too, namely the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC).
What roles are available in these organisations?
The scope of the career opportunities in this area is astounding. As with the majority of other government departments and agencies, there are careers available for people looking to become administrators, research analysts, statisticians, economists, policy leaders, press officers, finance professionals, I.T. technicians, HR executives and lawyers.
However, the scientific and technical nature of a lot of the work in this area means that there are also opportunities for budding research scientists, vets, environmental inspectors, forestry managers, engineers and enforcement officers.
If you’re passionate about nature, the environment, food, agriculture, fish, animal health and public safety, then you should definitely consider a career in this area. It doesn’t matter what your academic background is, there is certainly something for you within one of these government organisations. Furthermore, there’s a huge range of ways that you can get involved.
Understandably, you can take the conventional routes into the civil service by applying directly to the relevant department or agency, or via the Civil Service Fast Stream graduate programme.
However, many of the executive agencies that drive forward the government’s environment, food and rural affairs initiatives offer their own graduate programmes, apprenticeship schemes and industry placement opportunities.
What options do I have to get in?
If you choose not to go to university, you have a range of career paths at your fingertips in the exciting world of environment, food and rural affairs. For starters, you could take on an administrative assistant or administrative officer position with Defra or any of its executive agencies. Here you would be providing general administrative support to your organisation, updating databases, filing and doing other task on an ad hoc basis.
The Environment Agency also offers other positions for non-graduates as customer service advisors, who work in contact centres and deal with public enquiries about environmental issues.
Furthermore, the Forestry Commission offers various apprenticeship schemes for school leavers. In Scotland, you can take part in a Trees & Timber Modern Apprenticeship, but in other areas of the UK, you can shadow senior staff members of the Forestry Commission and get a fantastic insight into the various areas of work that the organisation carries out.
If you opt to take the graduate route into this line of work, there’s a veritable feast of career paths for you to get your teeth into. If you join for Defra or the DECC via the Civil Service Fast Stream, you will enter the organisation at an executive level. These roles are mainly office-based and you will be involved in research, analysis and the formulation of policy.
You may also find yourself working in a niche role as an economist, statistician, librarian, information officer, trainee lawyer, trainee accountant, HR professional or marketing executive. These kinds of roles are also available with Defra’s various executive agencies.
This area of government work is fairly unique in the amount of technical, scientific and practical roles on offer for talented students and graduates. Do you have an interest in scientific research positions? Well, why not apply for scientific officer positions with Defra, the Food Standards Agency, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science, or the Food and Environment Research Agency.
Toxicologists are especially sought after by the Food Standards Agency; marine scientists are vital to the operations of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science; and graduates with a veterinarian sciences background are integral to the work of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
Qualified vets actually play an important role across a range of organisations. Animal Health and Defra’s State Veterinary Service, for instance, both employ government veterinarians and technical officers to carry out hands-on veterinary work across farms, zoos and other places where animals are kept. They also offer consultancy services to the agricultural industry in order to ensure the welfare of animals in the UK.
Regulation, inspection and enforcement are important for all of the government organisations that operate in this area. You could find yourself working as a fishery officer, an environmental officer, a drinking water inspector or part of the Food Standards Agency’s enforcement team to ensure that food production meets government standards.
If engineering is more your thing, you could join the Environment Agency’s Civil Engineering Graduate Programme, where you could work on projects focusing on flood defences.
Alternatively, the Environment Agency also offers school leavers the chance to take part in a two-year River and Coastal Engineering Foundation Degree, which allows participants to gain a university qualification and some in-depth experience in a particularly niche area of engineering.
‘I work in environment, food and rural affairs’ might be quite a mouthful to say, but don’t let that put you off! If you’re passionate about these things and want to make a difference, a career in this sector might just be perfect for you!