Research shows environmental health is one of the best career options in a post-COVID world (England)

10 August 2020, Ross Matthewman

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up many different sectors, with repercussions for the jobs market likely to last for a long time to come. However, one profession has stood out and come to the fore during this pandemic – environmental health.

As A-level results are announced and young people are reconsidering their career options, CIEH is launching a new campaign this Thursday, #ChooseEnvironmentalHealth, calling for more people to consider this dynamic, varied and vital profession.

Data gathered by CIEH from accredited universities of environmental health courses across the UK, shows that 88% of graduates find employment or further study within six months of leaving university.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) have held a variety of roles, which were central to the country’s response to the crisis. The varied skillset of this profession is therefore now beginning to be recognised. During lockdown EHPs took on a variety of roles, including:

  • Working quickly with new legislation to enforce the closure of businesses during the lockdown
  • Providing advice to businesses on how they can open safely in recent months
  • Some EHPs were seconded to work with local homelessness charities and environmental health teams worked to ensure that vulnerable people received essential supplies
  • Some EHPs were deployed early in the lockdown to help patients to be discharged from hospital by ensuring their home is safe to return to
  • EHPs were also put in charge of setting up temporary morgues and other emergency preparations
  • EHPs on the Isle of Man helped the island devise its own rules during the pandemic, which meant that it had its own track and trace programme ahead of other UK areas.

However, even before COVID-19, environmental health has been a very varied profession, which uses a variety of skills to investigate, problem solve, advise and prosecute those who are harming the health of others. Work ranges from food safety and standards to air quality and housing standards. Last year, CIEH launched a campaign to raise awareness of what EHPs do, which features a series of case studies from EHPs working in a variety of sectors.

A number of environmental health degrees are open to students through clearing, including Middlesex University London, University of Wolverhampton, Leeds Beckett University and Cardiff Metropolitan University.

Jon Buttolph, Associate Director of Membership and Professional Development at CIEH said:

“Environmental health is about protecting people from the harmful effects in their environment, whether that is an unsafe home, poor hygiene in a restaurant or air pollution. However, it is the versatility of our members’ skills that has been recognised during the current pandemic – they have been deployed in lots of essential areas to ensure services are provided, the virus is contained and people are kept safe and well.

“There have been shortages of qualified environmental health practitioners before the pandemic, but their essential role during the current pandemic has helped to bring the vital skills of these individuals to the fore. In the time of uncertainty for the future jobs market, it is a great career choice for young people considering their course of study and those thinking about a possible career change, due to the pandemic.”

Zena Lynch, Course Leader and Senior Lecturer in Environmental Health at the University of Birmingham said:

"We have seen increased interest in our environmental health courses in the last few years. This is based on an increased awareness of environmental concerns, people wanting to improve population health and well-being and also to be part of the drive towards a more sustainable way of living.

Our profession has high employability and our MSc Environmental Health course has seen a very high number of graduates employed in good environmental health and related roles in recent years.

New roles are also arising in the profession related to the management of COVID-19. I am still in touch with many alumni (both UK and international) who have moved on to higher management roles in private, public and voluntary sectors and some have gone on to undertake PhD's. We also have a lot of students who are career changers.

From a personal perspective, my career in environmental health has been varied and interesting and I would highly recommend it."

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