Career profile: Chris Ferrary

Chris Ferrary

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?

I left school with A Levels in economics and geography, and wanted to use these in a socially worthwhile career.

What was your first job in this field?

Town planning technician trainee at the now-defunct Greater London Council in 1975. It was on an apprenticeship scheme that included day-release training, which I knew would be important to progress my career. University wasn’t considered a serious option at my East End comprehensive in those days – only a handful of kids from my school went into any sort of further education, usually teacher training.

How did you get your first role?

I applied via an advertisement in a schools career publication, and was successful at interview.

What does your current role involve?

Directing EIAs for infrastructure projects, business management, winning work and staff development.

How has your role progressed over the past few years?

Client organisations have often ‘de-skilled’ on technical matters. When I started in consultancy, your client typically knew more than you did, which is now much less frequently the case. This means the nature of the advice you have to give has changed. Also, there is much more wrangling with clients over contractual matters.

What’s the best part of your work?

Working collaboratively in teams, and the satisfaction that comes from finding a successful solution to a client’s problem.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Wrangling with clients over contractual matters!

What was the last development event you attended?

An in-house refresher on managing contracts.

What did you bring back to your job?

Take care over the details, and the big issues will be easier to deal with.

What are the most important skill(s) for your job?

Good communication skills, empathy and patience.

Where do you see the profession going?

Becoming mainstream in the public consciousness as issues such as the climate crisis and poor air quality continue to rise in importance. However, I’m not seeing much evidence of it yet. We need more professionals to stand up and be counted on this. It can’t be right that the go-to media figure on the climate crisis is a 16-year old schoolgirl and not a sustainability professional.

Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

Happily retired, with the odd phone call asking me to dispense pearls of wisdom.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

This is still a young profession, and you can make it whatever you want it to be. Seek out your own challenges, and step up to the mark.

How do you use the IEMA Skills Map?

It’s helpful in advising younger colleagues on setting career goals for the medium and longer term, and identifying ways to achieve them.

If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Dependable, knowledgeable, curious (in all senses of the word!).

What motivates you?

Understanding how cities work and how infrastructure shapes them, then using this knowledge to make them better. Although people are nostalgic for a rural idyll, cities are where most people live now, and getting them right is the way to benefit most people.

What would be your personal motto?

Seek forgiveness, not permission.

Greatest risk you have ever taken?

Leaving the public sector after more than a decade to join a consultancy. Actually, it was the best move I ever made.

If you could go back in history, who would you like to meet?

Aneurin Bevan  – a working-class lad responsible for the most important social change in British history.  

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