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How to work in the Australian environmental sector with David & Chris from NRMjobs

 Chris Duigan and David Mussared, a couple based in the beautiful Adelaide Hills of South Australia are the creators and owners of NRMjobs, the go-to bulletin for environmental jobs, conferences and internships in Australia. Founded in October 1998, NRMjobs has been a foundational part of broadcasting (and influencing) the expansion of the environment and natural resource management industry over the past almost 30 years.

While we spoke in much more detail in the podcast about the evolution of Australia’s environmental industry and all things job interviews, career advice and cover letters, this blog post covers the basics – and above all, it should inspire you with everything you need to know to land a job with wildlife in Australia!

How to work in the Australian environmental sector with David & Chris from NRMjobs | #itsawildlife

THE STORY OF NRMJOBS

Although David and Chris are both retired now from their respective careers in science-environment journalism and nursing, they are long-term conservation volunteers on their local landcare programs and have a deep passion for protecting Australia’s unique landscapes and wildlife. This interest in the environment is what led them to pay close attention to the evolution of the natural resource management industry in Australia. And this ultimately led to the creation of NRMjobs bs, which since its inception in 1998, has been a huge part of their family!

So, how did NRMjobs begin? David explains:

“Well, how it started as a little disputed, because I claim it was all my idea and Chris claims it was all hers. But it was really a response to a need in the environmental space for people to find out what was going on”.

For context, it was very early days of the internet and the only place you could see job adverts was in the newspapers which were expensive to place, $1500-$2000. A lot of small landcare programs were starting up with small budgets and they were required to advertise for any positions they offered.

“We just tried to offer an alternative to the paper where you could reach the people you wanted to, for a tenth of the price.”

Chris was working in the public sector and she noticed how keen people were to read the government Gazette when it came out each week showing all the new jobs.

“I could see how much information you could get from jobs being advertised. And they weren’t necessarily looking for jobs themselves, they were scanning through to see what was going on, who was in, who was out and that sort of thing.”

And with no consistency in the industry, no one really knew what anyone should be getting paid and no one really knew what they should be paying anyone.  They found that employers were looking at NRMjobs to work out what job descriptions they should be writing and employees were looking at it to work out what they should be asking for in interviews.

“Email had just started out – and it was free, so we thought, maybe we could do something like that for people in the environmental field around Australia. We could just send them a little weekly bulletin that showed the new jobs coming up, and they could sort of design their careers around it.”

And right from the start, that was the role that NRMjobs carved out for itself: for employers and employees alike. As a way to see who had received funding and what people were being paid. Chris explains,

“We wanted to help people with their careers and we wanted to offer a cheap way for groups to advertise positions without having to go through the whole rigmarole of the formal mass media. And that’s pretty much where we’ve stayed.”

THE EVOLUTION OF AUSTRALIA’S ENVIRONMENT SECTOR

The Australian environmental sector has only recently accelerated in its growth and diversification in the last couple of decades and we asked Chris and David if they could comment on the evolution of the industry as they had seen it through their involvement in NRMjobs.

David is a self-confessed dinosaur in the landcare world, having been present at the launch of the National Land Care Program by Bob Hawke in in July 1989. However, they wanted to acknowledge that their experience begins around 1989 and that there was a lot of good conservation work happened before that. They explain –

As Chris and David saw it, funding for the environment in the late 80s, early 90s was very much divided in Canberra between two mega departments: the Department of Environment and Agriculture. The states were all fractured with a similar distinction and a hodgepodge of different programs. Local government and water companies saw itself as having a very limited environmental scope – and many NGOs, consultancies and ranger programs just didn’t exist yet! So, there was almost no private sector involvement in biodiversity management and conservation, and most of the environmental NGOs were largely advocacy based.

This changed with the inception of landcare groups funded at a community level from the Natural Heritage Trust, one of the first big public money pots for environmental work with no government strings attached, that came from the first sale of Telstra under the coalition government at the time.

“So, it was just a very messy picture, and I think landcare was the thing that really started pulling it all together in a way because it connected farmers and natural resource management in with conservation and the biodiversity.”

“They were all rubbing shoulders together, working in the same patch. And then the catchment management got mixed up in it, and landcare groups began organising themselves by catchment, and the water people started getting involved and it emerged as an industry in its own right.”

Initially people came to the industry from all sorts of backgrounds, agriculture, ecology, mixed qualifications, no qualifications! After all, at that time you couldn’t go to university for a natural resource management degree!

Of course, the present snapshot of the environmental sector has evolved into something very different. The industry is now larger, more diverse and, thanks to people like David and Chris at NRMjobs, incorporates a broader umbrella of environmentally relevant roles and interests. Three of the biggest areas of growth include:

  • The private conservation sector: field-based NGOs, environmental consultancies and ranger programs, especially Indigenous ones has been huge.
  • The extension of local government towards more environmentally-focussed projects
  • The expansion of TAFE and relevant university courses and opportunities for higher study

WHERE TO NEXT?

While the industry has come a long way in a relatively short space of time, Chris and David still see three big issues which are still ongoing in the environmental space:

  • There are no standardised job titles

“Often similar jobs have completely different names, and similar-sounding jobs can be completely different!”

  • The short-term-ism of many jobs

“It is frustrating to see that one- or two-year contracts are still the norm, much more so than other industries”

  • The undervaluing of many areas of the industry, especially physical, outdoor jobs where you have to get out of the office and do manual work.

“The brunt of conservation work is done outside the office – and this is something that deserves recognition”

However, a lot of these frustrations likely stem from it being a fairly new field. Chris explains, it’s not like nursing or similar where there were established hierarchies and histories of awards and so forth. So hopefully many of these changes will take place organically over the next few years.

SO MUCH MORE THAN JUST A JOB BOARD

When I was first looking to get my foot in the door of the industry, NRMjobs was certainly a god send – a reminder that there were opportunities out there which kept my hope alive!

And NRMjobs is a wonderful resource for so much more than just a list of advertised jobs. It can give you information on all of the following and more:

  • What are the job titles at each level, and what skills/qualifications are required to apply?
  • What are people being paid to do different roles?
  • What positions are available? And what projects are being funded?
  • Who is in, and who is out?

Above all, NRMjobs shows job seekers of all ages and experiences that there are lots of opportunities in the environmental space. There are real jobs. It is a real career. You can make a living. You can buy a house on it. You can travel the world and all that sort of thing.

CAREER ADVICE

From Chris and David’s perspective, there are several key steps that everyone can take to increase their chances of landing a job in the environmental sector:

  • Build your network

“I’ve been the manager of a job advertising service for 24 years and I will tell you the best way to get a job is through people you know – it’s your network, not advertised jobs”

  • Expand your experience

“Join your local land care group get out and volunteer and I always say, don’t just pull-out weeds, take the role as the secretary or treasurer of the group so you can expand your skillset”

“That way, you’re rubbing shoulders with employed people which starts your networks and there’s so many people have found their way into paid employment through that.”

  • And if you don’t have the capacity to volunteer…

“I do also take your point that not everyone can afford to do unpaid work, and another way to gain experience and network within the industry is to get an unrelated job for an environmental organisation, like a receptionist position – that puts you in a good position to find your way and learn the language!”

KEEP IN TOUCH

Want to hear more about NRMjobs from Chris and David? Tune into the podcast and follow them on Facebook or Instagram @nrmjobs. You can also check out their website and subscribe for their free weekly job bulletin to your email inbox!

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