April 15 is Environmental Professionals Day. To celebrate this day, we asked Salome Beeslaar, and contract lecturer in environmental sciences in our department, to speak about her profession.
Q: Tell us about your academic and professional background.
I studied B.Sc Environmental Science and B.Sc Honours Geography at the University of Pretoria (UP). Thereafter, I started working as an environmental assessment practitioner (EAP) at a company in Polokwane, moving back to Pretoria after six months to another company. I worked for environmental consulting companies until September 2014, whereafter I started with my own environmental consulting company. While working full-time, I completed my M.Sc. Geography at UP, completing my thesis in 2013. I am registered as an EAP with the Environmental Assessment Practitioners Association of South Africa (EAPASA), and registered as a Professional Natural Scientist in the field of Environmental Science with the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP).
Q: What is your current affiliation with UP?
Since 2010 I have been a part-time lecture at the UP, lecturing ENV 785 (Environmental Assessments) to Honours students, and I also helped with some undergraduate subjects in 2015 and 2016.
Q: What job opportunities exist for graduates of out B.Sc. Geography and Environmental Sciences program?
Many of you will go on to finish degrees in Environmental Science and/or Geography as well as your Honours in these fields. So what can you do as a professional one day and how to enhance your career opportunities? First off, what can you do one day with a degree in these fields? If you read the GGM Honours Study Programme, it gives you a good indication of the different potential employment opportunities, ranging from research, education, government, and private sector. I am employed in the private sector so will focus on this sector only.
One such field is an EAP. This includes conducting environmental assessments, water use licence applications, waste licence applications, and other relevant environmental applications. Currently (and this has been amended several times), anyone can be an EAP. There is no minimum qualifications or registrations necessary. However, as from 8 August 2022, you need to be registered as an EAP with the governing body named EAPASA. To be registered as an EAP you need to 1) have a South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) accredited qualification; 2) have at least three years of appropriate professional experience within the last 10 years; 3) have undertaken at least 3 Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) or EIA Reviews, at an appropriate scale, conducted while you held primary responsibility; and 4) demonstrate that Core Competencies have been met (these core competencies are included in the EAPASA registration). The SAQA accredited qualifications are not yet entirely regulated, therefore currently a degree in B.Sc Environmental Science or Geography is assumed to be sufficient. I can guarantee that any company that understands requirements of an EAP, will only employ a person with such a degree. Note that an Honours is probably not necessary, but in general, environmental consulting companies want a person with an Honours degree, in a similar and/or appropriate field. Further, when the requirements for the SAQA accredited qualifications are published, it may potentially state that a person must have an Honours degree. I strongly recommend you do your Honours degree.
A second field is an Environmental Control Officer (ECO). This is a person employed by a company which conducts certain activities, which must be controlled in order to comply with environmental legislation. Such companies include mines, large manufacturing companies, water boards, State-Owned Entities such as Eskom, Transnet, etc. Your scope of work will include ensuring compliance to legislation, monitoring, inspections, and managing external consultants and specialists necessary on your site. No formal qualification is necessary to conduct this field of work. However, with a degree such as B.Sc. Environmental Science or Geography, including Honours, your chances to be employed in this field are better.
Another field is that of environmental auditors. EAPs are usually also environmental auditors. This field includes ISO 14001 auditors. These are environmental management system auditors and usually specialists in this regard. There are no mandatory qualifications to become an auditor but certification bodies are required to demonstrate that their auditors are competent.
A last field to mention here is a specialist. It is unlikely that you will be a specialist if you have a degree in B.Sc Environmental Science or Geography. These fields require specialised qualifications such as botany, soil science, etc. Environmental legislation indicates requirements for these specialist fields. Most of these fields will, therefore, require certain tertiary qualifications, as well as certain required fields of registration under the SACNASP. On this point, it is not a requirement, but an advantageous to register as a professional scientist (Environmental Science) under SACNASP.
Q: What will enhance my employment chances?
As with most employment currently in South Africa, it can be challenging to get a foot in the door straight out of university. Job opportunities are scarce and many companies want a candidate with 3 or more years’ of experience. A candidate with 3 years’ experience can start at a new job/company and will already know what must be done to conduct EIAs, and other relevant environmental authorisations. Such a person will also already have a good understanding of all computer programmes used, how to consult with clients, public, and government departments.
However, there are several steps you can take already as student to ensure that when you do start applying for work, you have an advantage over other candidates. When considering a candidate, companies do look at your marks. You don’t need to be the best in your class, but low marks as well as failed subjects are a red flag. Make sure you are Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook efficient. It is the absolute minimum that you need to understand. Additional programmes such as GoogleEarth, SANBIGIS, etc., are also a good background to have. Then very important in your line of work are Geographic Information System (GIS). I had for instance only a beginners course in GIS, and it is a short-coming for me in doing my work. Regardless, list all these on your CV. A drivers licence is also very important, and for some companies a ‘must’. You cannot go on site visits or meetings if you cannot drive, and you need to be able to drive for long distances depending on where your client’s site is situated. Then lastly but very important is your CV. It must be professional, no spelling or grammar errors, no frills, and no CV sent in Microsoft Word (always send a pdf). More recently CVs include a photo, which is fine, but make sure the photo looks professional. Your hobbies are not important to most; your qualifications, experience, and the overall presentation of your CV, are important. Ensure when you go for an interview you look professional, you have an idea of the company at which you have the interview, and that you have some background on what the job specification entails.
Q: Do you have any last message for our students?
Good luck with your studies and career going forward. Remember if you don’t succeed right-away, try again. You can always do more interviews and update your CV.