How to Become an Environmental Protection Specialist

Explore the requirements to become an environmental protection specialist. Learn about the job description and duties, and review the step-by-step process to start a career in environmental protection. View article »

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  • 0:00 Environmental…
  • 0:46 Career Skills & Info
  • 1:53 Step 1: Bachelor's Degree
  • 3:18 Step 2: Entry-Level Work
  • 4:11 Step 3: Graduate Credential
  • 5:01 Step 4: Professional…

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Video Transcript

Environmental Protection Specialists

Environmental protection specialists investigate the types and amounts of pollution humans create and find ways to prevent, control or fix the damage caused by that pollution. Their job tasks might include collecting water, oil, food and other types of samples for testing; analyzing samples to identify pollution or potential environmental threats; preparing reports of findings; and developing plans to correct or avoid pollution problems. Environmental protection specialists may reclaim polluted areas that are no longer fit for human use. They might also work proactively to change human behaviors to prevent harm to the environment.

Career Skills & Info

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's degree may be required for higher-level positions
Degree Field Geosciences, biology, chemistry or natural sciences, environmental science, environmental policy, public health
Licensure and/or Certification None required
Experience None required; internships or experience may be beneficial
Key Skills Familiarity with map creation software, compliance software (e.g., Ecotech WinAQMS and MIRS Compliance), scientific software (e.g., Wolfel IMMI and Lakes Environmental EcoRisk View), database user interface software, and photo imaging software; knowledge of how to use soil core sampling apparatuses, radiation detectors, air sample collectors, and water analyzers
Median Salary (2015)* $73,930 per year (for environmental specialists and scientists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Environmental protection specialists must know how to use air sample collectors, soil core samplers, radiation detectors and water analyzers. They must also be familiar with a variety of computer software, including those related to compliance, like Ecotech WinAQMS and MIRS Compliance; database user interface; map creation; photo imaging; and science, such as Lakes Environmental EcoRisk View and Wolfel IMMI. Environmental protection specialists may be employed by the government or with private consulting firms. Most work takes place in an office or lab. Fieldwork may also be required. Based upon projections made by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), environmental specialists and scientists can expect an 11%, or faster-than-average, increase in employment between 2014 and 2024. They earned an average of $73,930 a year as of May 2015.

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Step 1: Bachelor's Degree

Environmental protection specialists need a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Relevant majors include environmental science and policy, environmental protection or environmental science. A degree program in biology, chemistry, geosciences, natural sciences or public health can also prepare students for careers in this field. Once enrolled, students learn how to analyze problems and create solutions to protect the environment. They also study climate change, conservation and sustainability.

Classes in atmospheric environments, environmental geology, oceanography and organic chemistry, along with public policy and statistics, may also be part of a program. Some programs allow students to specialize in economics, water management or another area. Students may also participate in internships and senior projects.

Success Tip:

Complete an internship. Many undergraduate degree programs in environmental protection or a related major include opportunities for internships, which cannot only provide students with course credits, but also the chance to interact with professionals in the field. Internships can also lead to networking opportunities, which may make finding employment after graduation easier.

Step 2: Entry-Level Work

After graduation, environmental protection specialists can find entry-level positions as research assistants, lab technicians or field analysts, which can help to prepare them for handling more responsibility in the future.

Some employers accept specialists with a bachelor's degree in any field, provided they have a background in environmental studies or policy. Environmental protection specialists who want to work for the federal government or a federal agency will most likely need to be U.S. citizens.

Success Tip:

Complete an apprenticeship. At least one apprenticeship is associated with working as an environmental protection specialist or environmental analyst. As with an internship, it may help aspiring environmental protection specialists obtain employment in the field.

Step 3: Graduate Credential

Master's degree programs in environmental science or environmental protection and safety management are designed for working professionals seeking further knowledge and advancement in the field. These programs, which can require approximately 39 credit hours to complete, provide instruction in environmental law and waste, applied environmental biology and risk assessment.

Post-baccalaureate and post-master's certificate programs are also available. Post-baccalaureate programs are typically designed for working individuals considering pursuing advanced study. Post-master's certificate programs are usually intended for working professionals who already have master's degrees but want additional education. These programs require completion of about six courses.

Step 4: Professional Membership

Depending on their employers, some environmental protection specialists must belong to field-related professional organizations. For example, the National Association of Environmental Professionals provides members with networking and continuing education opportunities, conventions, industry-related publications and other resources that can help them advance in the field. Professional organizations can also help members remain up-to-date on environmental laws and regulations pertaining to the field.

Remember, environmental protection specialists need a bachelor's degree or background in a relevant area and maybe even a post-graduate award and professional membership to qualify for a job. As of May 2015, environmental specialists and scientists earned an average annual salary of $73,930.

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