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Change of career path leads to new environmental role

January 12, 2022

Jen Gale (Ngāi Tahu) is forging a new career in Environmental Management while studying at EIT.

COVID-19 prompted EIT student Jen Gale (Ngāi Tahu) to leave a career in public service and follow her passion for gardening and the environment – a move that has paid off for her.

Jen, who completed the year-long Diploma in Environmental Management [Level 5] at the end of last year, started a dream job as Senior Environmental Compliance Officer at the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council in November 2021.

She applied for a more junior role but was put forward for the senior position because of her background in analysis and regulation in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

“The basic premise of the role is to enforce resource consent, like requirements with wastewater and air discharge, sewage tanks and occasionally land and water pollution events. It is ensuring that the rules of the Resource Management Act are observed according to the consent they have,” says Jen, who has the blessing of the council to continue her studies full-time at EIT this year.

Gardening with her grandfather as a child gave Jen a passion for plants and the environment, but when she left her parents’ Eskdale farm after school to pursue study in Dunedin, she began a journey that would see her spend many years working as a public servant in Wellington.

Jen, who has a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Otago, returned home in 2019 to work in the Labour Inspectorate in Napier. However, COVID-19 last year caused her to re-evaluate everything, and she decided to quit her job to enrol in EIT’s FREE NZ Certificate in Horticulture (General) [Level 3] programme.

“I quit my job and was looking for something to do because I did not want to go straight back into work in the middle of COVID-19. I’d seen that programme and I thought it would be good, as I had a keen interest in it.”

“I grew up gardening with Grandad. He showed us how to do it. I always had the passion, but because I’d rented for so many years before moving back to Napier, I could never have my own garden.”

Jen loved the Horticulture programme and enjoyed how the tutors had so much information to pass on to the students.

“You think gardening’s easy, but then there’s so much behind it. It was more organic focused than I thought it would be which was great because that is important to me.”

In fact, Jen was even considering a career in Horticulture management when she heard about the Diploma in Environment Management [Level 5] at EIT. The decision was easy.

“When I heard about it I was like ‘oh, that’s a course that I’ve wanted to do for a long time’. I didn’t want to do it long distance and I didn’t want to leave Napier. I had just got back, so the EIT programme was perfect.”

The programme put Jen on a path to forging a career in environmental management. Even when she is not working or studying, Jen focuses on the environment, be it picking up litter on walks or starting a native planting programme on her parents’ farm.

Even though she is new in her regional council role, her employers have agreed to let her continue with her studies this year to complete the NZ Diploma in Environmental Management [Level 6] programme.

“The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council want me to keep studying, which is great. They’re also adjusting my hours during term. They’re super supportive of people continuing study and starting new study when they work there, which I think is really cool.”

Jen is looking forward to a long career at the council and looks forwards to getting involved in the Hawke’s Bay’s Regional Council’s sustainability projects.

“I would love to do more restoration work, later on. The council does a lot of biodiversity work like restoring the wetlands. I’ll try and get in on that as a helper when I can,” says Jen.

Gerard Henry, one of Jen’s lecturers, says she has been an enthusiastic learner throughout the environmental programmes and has contributed no end to her peers by sharing ideas.

“We all learn from one another and by asking questions is how we can learn effectively. It is encouraging also that the Regional Council are happy to support environmental study in the Bay . We all at EIT wish Jen the very best for her new role and look forward in having her presence back in 2022.”

Programme Coordinator Lisa Turnbull says EIT’s Environmental Management Diplomas equip learners for roles in the exciting world of environmental management.

“Learners gain skills and knowledge in environmental sustainability and participating in and managing environmental projects.  From preservation of our beautiful natural resources to sustainable farming, environmental roles are ever-increasing, and our graduates are in demand.”