Do the right thing

Employees are increasingly taking ethical considerations into account when deciding where to work. The expansion of the non-profit-making, environmental and charitable sectors means there are plenty of options for those who want to make a difference

“I love the sheer diversity of my job,” says Ali Thomas, 28, who works with disadvantaged young women through the YWCA charity in St Helens, Merseyside. “I have the chance to make an impact on society and to make lasting change. It’s like the effect of a ripple in a pond.”

When you listen to people who do a job that is meaningful to them and makes a difference to society, you cannot help but notice their passion and pride in what they do. They believe they can make a difference and often derive a huge amount of job satisfaction as a result.

According to recent research, people in the UK have a growing enthusiasm for doing work that matters and is in some way “ethical”.

Last year, totaljobs.com found 43% of jobseekers would not work for a company that did not have environmental or ethical policies.

Other research by Ernst and Young showed 89% of graduates considered high ethical standards to be “imperative” when taking a decision about whether to join a company.

There is a host of reasons why people are more concerned today about the ethics of their working life.

Some may have experienced the boom and bust of the dotcom era and become disillusioned with quick buck schemes, some may have been turned off big business by scandals such as Enron, while others may simply want to reflect the ethical concerns of their private life in their working life.

Now is a good time to pursue a job in the ethical arena. “There has been a massive expansion in the ethical sector in the past few years,” says Helen Wallis, ethical careers service manager at People and Planet, a campaigning student network.

“There are thousands of jobs available in solar engineering, community regeneration and green businesses, or you could work in ethical PR and sustainable development.

“There are more than 550,000 paid jobs in the voluntary sector and more than 2.5 million jobs in local government.”

Ethical careers broadly fall into three categories:

· Work with charities and campaigning organisations in the voluntary sector. ·Work that supports the environment and regeneration. · Public sector jobs in local authorities, government departments and agencies, the health service and education.

A few clear trends are emerging in this broad cross-section of ethical career choices.

“It’s been interesting to see a growth in social enterprise recently,” says Wallis.

“More people are taking an entrepreneurial attitude to their careers and setting up their own socially responsible businesses.

“Another area that’s expanding is local community groups and regeneration schemes.”

The voluntary sector is an obvious choice for anyone wishing to make a positive contribution to society.

“There are something like 135,000 charities in the UK now,” says Julian Smith of recruitment consultancy Charity People.

“There are plenty of jobs. It’s a thriving sector.”

His advice for anyone wanting to get a foot in the door is to temp for a charity, be flexible and show that you’re willing to get involved.

This will give you vital experience, help you make contacts and could lead to permanent work.

He adds: “Charities are looking for a safe pair of hands. Don’t be quirky in your CV and you also need show that you’re looking at this as a long-term career.”

Voluntary work is often a vital first step to finding charity work.

Sara MacNeice, a campaigns co-ordinator for Amnesty International, says: “You have to be prepared for an initial period of building up your experience, and that is often voluntary experience.

“It may be basic work but it is invaluable in developing an understanding of the area.”

Smith recommends avoiding the high-profile international development sector.

“There is fierce competition for jobs in international development and charities that aim to reduce poverty,” he says.

“I would suggest looking at housing charities instead. It’s seen as unsexy but you could be working with the elderly, orphans, people with HIV/Aids, ex-offenders, those with mental or physical disabilities, refugees, asylum seekers, battered women or people dealing with alcohol or drugs issues.

“Housing is a huge area and you deal with the whole of humanity.”

If you want work that benefits the environment, you are looking at a huge and growing field.

According to the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, the environment sector in the UK has a £16bn turnover and employs about 170,000 people.

Growth is continueing and the global market is forecast to reach £500bn by 2010. One reason for this sector’s strength is the need to enforce new European Union environmental legislation.

The major employers are government agencies such as English Nature and the Environment Agency, and local authorities who employ people to deal with recycling, conservation, countryside management, environmental health, planning, pollution control, transport and waste management.

“Environmental careers attract graduates in subjects such as life sciences, geography and geology but physicists, chemists and engineers will also find clear opportunities, as will those with business and IT skills,” says Iain McLoughlin in his careers advice for the University of London.

You may also need to complete some form of further education, such as an environmental MSc.

If you are wondering about the environmental jobs of the future, Lester Brown points to the following in his book, Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth (Earthscan):

· Wind meteorologists · Family planning midwives · Foresters · Hydrologists ·Recycling engineers · Aquacultural technicians · Ecological economists ·Geothermal geologists · Environmental architects · Bicycle mechanics · Wind turbine engineers

Even its biggest fans would agree public sector work has suffered from an image problem. “Underpaid” and “overworked” were the two adjectives most often associated with it. Yet the public sector is currently enjoying a resurgence and is particularly attractive for people seeking work that makes a difference.

Research by the Bernard Hodes Group shows that people attracted to the non-private sector are interested in working for a “values-driven organisation” and are attracted to the potential for a better work-life balance.

Public sector work can also result in high levels of job satisfaction. A new survey from the NHS shows that three-quarters of staff are satisfied with their jobs, with many citing work-life balance, flexible working and training as important factors.

Teaching and the caring professions are clearly experiencing a revival. In January 2004 there was a 7.5% rise in the number of people applying to take the postgraduate certificate of education (PGCE).

Ucas figures published in February 2004 also show a surge in applications for degrees in the caring professions. Applications for social work has risen by a dramatic 94.6% since the diploma in social work has become a degree course, with figures for nursing up 23% and pre-clinical medicine up 21.7%.

We have already seen the considerable benefits of this type of work: job satisfaction, work-life balance, flexible working and the feeling you are making a difference.

But is it a myth that you must sacrifice income for ethics? Wallis says that is not necessarily the case.

“In some jobs for smaller organisations or community groups, you’ll receive a lower salary,” she says.

“But larger charities need to attract and retain highly qualified people so they offer equivilent wages. And you can earn up to £100,000 in local government jobs.”

It is worth bearing in mind that every career can have an ethical component.

“It’s a mistake to think that people who do law and accountancy don’t want to get involved in programmes of corporate responsibility,” says Terry Jones, a board member of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services.

“Many of the big consultancies have schemes that enable staff to put something back and some law firms get trainee solicitors involved in pro bono work.”

Nils Cornelissen has a job as a management consultant with McKinsey but he also works on other projects that offer a balance.

While at Edinburgh University he held “metamorphosis” events aimed at making work meaningful for “the individual, the organisation and wider society”. He is now planning another event in Berlin in 2005.

“Personal values are at the core when people want to follow an ethical career,” says Wallis.

“It can take time to gain the necessary skills and experience, so you have to be determined, creative and patient in pursuing your dream job.

“Keep a passion and interest in the area and stick to your beliefs.”

 

Success stories

Sara MacNeice, 28, is a campaigns co-ordinator for Amnesty International. She studied law at University College Dublin and specialised in human rights. She worked as a volunteer for the Irish Refugee Council and then took up a post there as a co-ordinator of the legal unit.

MacNeice left that job to qualify with a private human rights-based solicitors’ practice. During this time, she also worked in New York for three months on death penalty cases at the Innocence Project, a not-for-profit organisation that challenges wrongful convictions.

When she qualified, MacNeice came to England and started working for Amnesty in late 2003.

“I co-ordinate Amnesty International’s UK death penalty actions and Amnesty UK’s campaigning. My work aims to get Amnesty members and supporters to take action to achieve positive change.

“Everything Amnesty does relates to the law, either a law that needs to be improved or one that should exist. You can’t separate campaigning, policy and human rights from law.

“I do this job because I’ve always been interested in human rights, probably because I grew up in the North of Ireland. During the 80s, there was a huge number of civil liberties issues and that becomes part of you.

“If I had chosen corporate law, my earning capacity would have been much greater. But the job is fascinating and it’s a massive training ground. It encompasses everything – politics, law and ethical issues.

“There’s also the job satisfaction. At the moment, we’re working to stop the imposition of a death sentence on Kenny Richey, a Scottish guy on death row in Ohio.

“Amnesty has described his as ‘one of the most compelling cases of innocence’ it has seen. There’s the possibility that Amnesty can help save his life. That’s what makes the job worthwhile.

“On the other side, it’s a huge disappointment if you can’t help.

“People who work in human rights aren’t bleeding heart liberals. You have to be resilient and realistic or you can’t get anything done. You have to keep plugging away and be prepared for disappointments.

“The more people who go into the human rights field, the better. Anyone can get into human rights from any field and find their niche.

“As for me, I’m definitely going to stay in human rights for the rest of my life.”

Nathan Oxley, 23, is a research director at Futerra, a small sustainable development consultancy in London. He graduated from Cambridge with a degree in French and German. After a temporary job with the NHS, he took an unpaid internship on a corporate responsibility magazine. Oxley joined Futerra last summer.

“During the milkround at Cambridge, it turned me off that some people were going for jobs because they were well paid, not because they were interested in the work.

“I thought, if you’re going to spend eight hours a day, five days a week, doing something, it might as well be something you enjoy. That was my reason for looking into other areas.

“After university I took a temp job initially. I applied to charities but there weren’t many jobs going.

“I wanted to do something ethical and found an internship through a friend who was working for a magazine about corporate responsibility.

“This was really useful because I met lots of people involved in corporate responsibility and sustainable development. It was the best way to find out what was out there.

“After a short break, I came to Futerra. Sustainable development is one of the most important issues you can possibly engage with as a young person today.

“It means development that meets the needs of people today without compromising the needs of future generations.

“I’m working on a project to develop a communications strategy for a sustainability organisation in London, and carrying out international research into education on sustainable development.

“I’m also looking at how colleges can integrate sustainability into marketing, which is part of a United Nations environment programme.

“I’m really excited about the work I’m doing. I find it incredibly interesting and a lot of fun – I go out and meet people, have a lot of responsibility and am gaining lots of experience.

“I don’t get paid loads but doing this job far outweighs the excitement of a big fat paycheque. I know people who earn pots of money but don’t have the time to spend it.

“I think I’ll always have an interest in sustainable development and will always want to do something that contributes to sustainability. I’m hoping to work with Futerra for quite a while because I love what it does.”

Chris Roberts, 37, is the scheme manager for Clear Skies, a Department of Trade and Industry programme that gives grants to householders and community organisations to enable them to install renewable energy equipment such as solar hot water heating, small wind turbines and hydro systems.

Roberts went into retail management after leaving school, worked as an estate agent, then moved into financial services and became an independent financial adviser.

At 35 he took an MSc in advanced environmental and energy studies at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, which opened the door to a new environmental career.

“I had just drifted into becoming a financial adviser – it was never a conscious decision. I knew I didn’t want to work in that field for the rest of my life and started thinking about what I really did want to do.

“I had become increasingly concerned about the climate change and decided to take the MSc at the Centre for Alternative Technology.

“I was attracted by the residential nature of the course and its broad content. It covered global energy, climate change, eco building, alternative building methods, designing for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“I also did a dissertation on the impact of building development on flood risk, looking into two green building options.

“The first one is green roofs, where part of a building’s roof is covered in turf. I compared that with rainwater harvesting and recycling, using rainwater to flush loos, for example.

“I concluded rainwater harvesting was far better and could be more economically viable than some of the measures water companies currently use.

“I did the MSc principally because I was interested in the subject but also because I hoped it would help me into a new area.

“I hadn’t done a degree the first time around, so I was much more committed. Now I manage a team of six and am directly answerable to the DTI on the success of the scheme. There’s been a 1000% improvement in my job satisfaction. The job is stressful but in a positive way.

“I believe I’m doing something that’s positive and good; it’s challenging, fun and I work with an extremely committed team of excellent people.

“I love every minute of it. I feel as though I’m making my small contribution to helping the UK reduce its carbon dioxide emissions.”

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