How Much Training Do You Really Need? 5 Things to Know

Angie - Test Knowles, | August-09-12

How Much Training Do You Really Need? ECO Canada

How much training and education are enough to make you marketable to green employers? 
This question comes up often both because of the highly varied nature of environmental work, as well as the wide difference in opinion on employer expectations. 
At one end of the spectrum, having as much training as possible is a good thing. Most environmental industries are going through major technological and regulatory changes. This makes it especially important for green workers to stay in touch with the latest industry developments and constantly update their skills through ongoing professional development.
Yet on the other hand, there’s a common concern around investing too much into education and training. In this vein, advanced degrees can be too much of a good thing, since employers may be reluctant to hire a candidate with a degree that a.) isn’t actually needed for the position and b.) warrants a higher than average starting salary.
So which one of these two perspectives is the most accurate? 
From the feedback that we’ve heard from environmental employers, I would say that the first viewpoint is the closest to the truth. Ongoing and extensive training is a major priority for green companies, with the main caveat simply being that the training is relevant and applicable. 
To help with the decision around whether a particular educational and training program will be a good fit for an environmental career, here are 5 key points to consider:

1.) Environmental work is trending towards high levels of education

In ECO Canada’s 2010 Profile of Canadian Environmental Employment, environmental professionals had higher than average levels of education. Thirty-six percent of environmental workers in Canada held a Bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 22% of the overall Canadian workforce.
This is a trend that is only intensifying.
We’ve just completed a national study on the impact of the green economy on employment (soon to be published – details can be found here), and discovered this remarkable stat. In a pool of over 800 green job listings in the past few months, over 70% listed a Bachelor’s degree as a requirement. A further 6% of these postings actually mentioned a graduate degree. 
Clearly, having a degree for a growing number of environmental jobs is not a nice-to-have, but a necessity.

2.) Soft competencies are in high-demand and short supply

This point has been noted before and bears repeating: soft or transferable competencies are absolutely integral to the vast majority of environmental jobs.  
A job seeker might have top-notch technical competencies, but without strong soft skills like critical thinking, writing ability or business acumen, the candidate is unlikely to get far. Not only have green employers mentioned how important these competencies are, they’ve also noticed a general lack of these types of skills amongst current job applicants. 
If you’re looking for the right way to attract an environmental employer’s attention, this is it.  
By investing in the soft competencies that fellow job seekers are probably lacking, you’ll stand out amongst the pool of job applicants and demonstrate the employee characteristics that green employers are especially interested in. 

3.) HR managers may not provide training for the skills that they value most… 

Here’s a bit of an ironic situation. In our 2012 Employer HR Strategies study, environmental companies noted how much soft competencies factored into their decision to hire, retain or promote staff. 
Yet while these competencies were a high priority for the employers, they admitted that they preferred to provide technical training over transferable skill-related programs. 
The most likely explanation is that many green employers expect you to have developed these skills already. In fact, a number of employers in our study believed that certain transferable competencies were innate and difficult to teach.

4.) …but they’re willing to offer this training if you do your research 

Just because some environmental employers place a higher priority on technical training doesn’t mean that they aren’t open to suggestions. 
While there is the common perception that certain skills are abilities that you either have or don’t, like a knack for leadership or writing, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that many of these skills simply reflect long-term learning. As a result, relevant training and educational programs can make a major difference in your soft skill development. 
Our Harvard Business Publishing’s Stepping up to Management program and Environmental Practice program through the CCEE (Canadian Centre for Environmental Education) are two great options that appeal to employers because they can be completed online and part-time. Both of these programs are tailored to the environmental sector and offer effective soft competency development related to critical thinking, leadership and interpersonal skills.

5.) Employers want to know how you plan to apply your education and training on the job – not just that you have them

Let’s say all goes well and you’ve completed a targeted, relevant training program for your ideal environmental job. You know that you’re ready and capable to perform the work, but does your prospective employer? 
A surprising number of job seekers believe that just listing an impressive educational and training background on their résumé is enough to demonstrate their competence - a modified version of resting on their laurels. 
If you’ve invested all that time and effort in completing extensive training and education, don’t leave it up to the employer to connect the dots and guess which skills you might have or how you plan to apply them. 
One of the most effective strategies for promoting your educational background on a résumé and in an interview is to clearly link what you’ve learned with the key job activities that an employer has listed in the job posting. 
Most companies are impressed when they see this and find it that much easier to envision you as an employee in their organization. These two things - being impressed and seeing you as a future staff member - are what you definitely want employers to be experiencing when they review your application.
With so many different training and educational programs out there, it can be tough to know which options are going to be the most useful and the most appealing to prospective employers. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. What training and education do you think is the most relevant for environmental work? Do you agree or disagree with the idea that some skills are innate and can’t be taught?