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Geoscientists in the Agency

kljEnvironment Agency drives chartership and professionalism, says Keith Barker (left)

Geoscientists play a key role in helping the Environment Agency fulfil its statutory duties. They are involved in managing and protecting our groundwater resources, minimising the impact of contaminated land, mining and landfill on people and the environment, as well as ensuring the integrity of our flood defences. In fact the Agency employs over 200 geoscientists throughout the organisation, many are on the operational ‘front line’, but others have more research oriented or strategic roles. Indeed several of its senior managers come from a geoscience background.

Within this geoscience community there is great depth and breadth of experience and background. The majority of staff have well over 10 years of professional experience, albeit not necessarily in ‘pure’ geology subjects.  This is not surprising given the wide remit of the Environment Agency. Geoscientists work alongside many other scientific and technical disciplines; including hydrologists, ecologists, chemists and engineers in delivering environmental outcomes.

Promoting professionalism and chartership

Five years ago, the Agency pioneered a formal technical development framework for geoscientists. It introduced the award of Practising Geologist, which was endorsed by the Geological Society, as well as Practising Environmental Regulator (recognised by CIWEM and more recently CIWM and IEEMA). These awards were intended to build technical resilience and professionalism amongst  technical staff, and also to provide a stepping stone to chartership This structured approach to development and professionalism is now being rolled out across the wider business.

However, because career progression in the Agency has not been linked to being chartered, only about  40 staff working within the geoscience field have attained chartered status (through the Geological Society, or other  professional bodies, depending on the individuals specialism and background).

With a renewed focus on raising the profile and getting professional recognition for its geoscientists, the Agency’s Matt Whitehead and Keith Seymour  arranged three very successful  workshops to encourage and help staff apply for Chartership through the GSL. These were done in collaboration with Bill Gaskarth, the Society’s Chartership Officer.

As a measure of the interest and enthusiasm generated, the two workshops held  in the Agency’s Leeds and Birmingham offices were attended by 25-30 staff each, but the most popular was the one hosted by the Geological Society at Burlington House, which attracted 45 staff (even on a Friday!).

The road to chartership

Bill described the different routes available and provided helpful advice for both candidates and sponsors about the application process. He was able to provide a clear steer for individuals as to whether they were better to go for Chartered Scientist, Chartered Geologist (or both), depending on their skills and backgrounds.

The Society’s new application procedure for those with 20years+ experience was of particular interest to many of the  ‘seasoned professionals’ who, whilst being recognised experts in their fields, have not progressed to applying for chartership

What’s in it for the Agency?

A high calibre and technically resilient workforce of qualified professionals  is fundamental to the  effectiveness and reputation of the Agency as an evidence-led environmental regulator,  never more so  than now with climate change and concerns over  unconventional energy being so high on the public and political agenda.

And  the individual – why bother?

For the individual, the benefits of chartership are clear. I:t is a measure of professional standing amongst peers within the Agency, the wider scientific community and also those we regulate.  This is particularly relevant when it comes to facing challenge in appeals and enforcement action.

To underpin its drive for professionalism, the Agency provides support and encouragement to staff, for example paying application and subscription fees and allowing the use of professional qualifications in their signatures. Managers are also expected to include self- learning and development in their staff’s  ‘personal development plans’ to make sure focusing on the ‘day job’ doesn’t come at the expense of building longer term technical resilience and capability.

How was it for ‘them’?

KJ(Pictured - an Agency Chartership workshop in Leeds, with the author (seated) and Bill Garkarth, Chartership Officer)

At the workshops recently chartered geologists Kevin Voyce, Giuseppe Frapporti, Ed Wrathmell, Sarah Scott and Claire Gould shared their experiences and tips for success with their colleagues, as well as reflecting on  what being chartered meant for them. Recurrent themes were: of the process - it was easier than they thought it would be, they should have done it ages ago, they actually enjoyed the presentation and discussion with scrutineers, On being chartered:  ‘a sense of pride, being recognised as a professional geologist, increased  confidence, it commanded respect from their peers and consultants they deal with, it meant more to them than they thought it would.

Their recommendation to experienced colleagues who’ve not yet ‘made the step – ‘Just get on and do it!.’

So the next steps?

Less experienced staff were advised to go for Practising Geologist /Environmental Regulator as a stepping stone to chartership and to seek coaching and mentoring from senior colleagues. Look to use the Plan-Act-Reflect cycle for their CPD and to regularly record this.

Unchartered, but experienced, senior geoscientists should look to find find sponsors, start the application process and to use the 20year+ years’ experience route if appropriate.

Existing chartered geoscientists are expected to coach and mentor junior colleagues as well as being sponsors. They were encouraged to apply to become scrutineers. Not only does it count towards their CPD but if we expect others outside our organisation to spend their time assessing our colleagues then we should also add support.

Leading from the front

Ian Barker, the Agency’s Head of Land, Water and Biodiversity is setting an example to his colleagues. He started out as a geologist in Australia in the 1970s before becoming leading hydrogeologist with the former Yorkshire Water Authority.  Since then Ian has expanded his career way beyond his hydrogeological roots. On being asked if he’d be interested in applying for chartership as an example to colleagues he responded that he’d be delighted, “Despite doing a wide range of ‘stuff’ these days, once a geologist, always a geologist....” He sees it as “an opportunity to send some signals around the Agency about the importance of geoscience and where it can take one”...