As part of #ECOWeek16 this guest blog comes from Joe Hind. Joe works for the Soil Association on the Food for Life Scotland Programme. After completing a social anthropology degree at St Andrews Joe moved to London and worked for Energywatch and then the Advertising Standards Authority before returning to Scotland to start his own business. This was followed by a brief stint with the Scottish Government and Keep Scotland Beautiful before he joined the Soil Association; a varied career with lots of ups and downs! This is a great post with lots of insider info on the Soil Association, tips for getting into the sector and updates on what’s happening now – a must read for anyone considering a career in the environmental sector! Rebecca
The Soil Association is a food and farming charity, founded in 1946 by a group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists who observed a direct connection between farming practice and plant, animal, human and environmental health. We exist, thanks to support from donations, members and various funders, in order to improve the way we all grow, cook and eat food for the benefit of everyone – people, animals and the planet.
In terms of working for us, our work is underpinned by sound evidence, so we are always interested in people with strong research skills, or practical experience of food and farming. We also own a subsidiary company, Soil Association Certification, with any profits helping to fund our charitable work. Last but not least, we have a Scotland office, which is set up as a Scottish charity in its own right. Because of the wide variety of the work we do, we often have a range of jobs available, right across the UK. We have IT, HR and admin roles as well as policy, project management, campaigning, account management, certification, inspection and communications. My own post as Area Manager in Edinburgh has a bit of everything, which suits me really well (jack of all trades comes to mind!). One day I might be working with a designer on a new school menu, the next I might be presenting to cooks, or writing a report, or drawing up a strategy, or meeting a local politician.
My feeling is that you get more out of, and can put more into, things in life that you enjoy and feel passionate about. If you care about the environment, peoples’ health, good food; if you believe that our society’s future depends to a large degree on improving our relationship with food, then the Soil Association will be a rewarding place to work.
- Stay professional. Charities are by their very nature less corporate than banks or insurance companies, and certainly attract people from all walks of life. But we will only continue to be funded and supported for our work if we deliver on our promises. It’s never ok to accept “good enough” just because you work in a not-for-profit. An informal working culture shouldn’t be mistaken for a “laissez faire” attitude to the work itself.
- Be knowledgeable. People are a charity’s greatest resource and often the biggest drain on budget. This means it is really helpful when people can add value beyond their given role. Maybe you have IT expertise. Perhaps you are particularly well-read about the benefits of organic farming, or have an encyclopaedic knowledge of behaviour change theory. These kinds of skills may not get you a job here – this depends on a strong application, tailored to the post with care taken to align your strengths to those needed – but they will help you keep it and thrive in the organisation.
- Stay strong. Charities can be precarious places to work. Funding is rarely for more than three years, especially for specific programme work. This means that, unless you’re in a core supporting role, your job will most likely depend on other people within the company getting more funding for the work to continue. Sometimes this can be announced at the last minute. It’s not an easy place to be if you have a family or mortgage (I have both). The benefit to this is that funded projects tend to be highly innovative, exciting places to work. Where else can you try something completely new to benefit society? Where else can you literally be at the forefront of change? I have worked on projects funded in this way for the last seven years, and hope to stay for many more to come.
- Be flexible. In the third sector you are almost always working with other people, building relationships to influence positive change. But circumstances change. Priorities shift. People come and go. This makes the work very fluid and the people who succeed are usually those more comfortable adapting to these changes quickly and who can build relationships, even with people who have very different agendas. On the plus side it also means that, perhaps more than any other sector, you will have a chance to make the role your own – using your strengths to achieve your organisation’s objectives. There’s almost always more than one way to reach a goal – and adaptability will help you achieve yours.
- Try volunteering. Perhaps you could offer to work for a few hours a week for a charity like ours. There will often be things you can do to support projects and make a big difference. You will also learn about workplace culture, the dos and don’ts, the opportunities on the horizon and you will be in a great position to apply for roles when they come up.
Key Developments in Our Sector
Healthy and sustainable food is a massive area of focus for Scotland and across the UK. Despite the many positive developments, we are far from solving the challenges of childhood obesity, diet related ill health, unsustainable intensive food production, the unequal distribution of food between and within countries all over the world that leaves many underfed whilst others have food to waste. New policies, programmes and initiatives to address these are inevitable over the coming months and years. There is a huge role for the third sector to play in delivering, communicating and working in partnership to support these. Relevant areas of work that may come up include public health, nutrition, sustainability, behaviour change and more.
To find out more about our working culture, the benefits and current opportunities within the Soil Association, see here: http://www.soilassociation.org/aboutus/workwithus/
Find out more about #ECOWeek16 here.