Research shows environmental health is one of the best career options (Northern Ireland)

10 August 2020, Ross Matthewman

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the UK jobs market with repercussions likely to last for a long time to come. However, one of the professions which has come to the fore during this pandemic is environmental health. Up and down the country, environmental health practitioners have been working around the clock to keep us safe.

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 offering environmental health courses across the UK, shows that 88% of graduates find employment or go into further study within six months of leaving university. At Ulster University, this figure is 100% for graduates of environmental health course.

Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) have been central to the country’s response to the pandemic, performing a variety of roles. Most of the time they work behind the scenes to keep us safe but during a crisis, their unique, transferable skills come to the fore. During lockdown EHPs took on a variety of roles, including:

  • Providing advice to businesses on how they can open safely as restrictions have been lifted
  • Working with community services colleagues to deliver a range of support services and food deliveries to the most vulnerable
  • Managing and delivering contact tracing services to prevent the spread of COVID- 19 in the community
  • Working to ensure throughout the pandemic that businesses comply with the relevant emergency legislation
  • Environmental health is a multidisciplinary profession. Officers may be generalists, working across all five core areas of environmental health - environmental protection, food safety and integrity, health and safety, housing and public health, or specialists with particular areas of expertise.

They use a variety of skills to investigate, problem solve, advise and where necessary take enforcement action to protect public health. Did you know they are the people who issue food hygiene ratings to food businesses? They visit tattooists and body piercers to ensure they are operating safely, investigate food poisoning outbreaks, ensure home in the private rented sector are safe and in good repair and work to improve the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink. 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.

Gary McFarlane, CIEH Director in Northern Ireland 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.”

Ursula Walsh, Course Director at Ulster University:

“Environmental health is an incredibly varied and dynamic career, which can take graduates to lots of different places. This is very much down to the range of skills they develop during the course and the breadth of potential jobs that awaits them when they come to graduate. Environmental health graduates are problem solvers who can think laterally across different disciplines in order to protect public health.

We are pleased that all graduates of our course at Ulster University went on to employment or further study, demonstrating just what a sought-after specialism this is.”

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