There’s such a diversity of roles in any organisation, and SEPA is no different. As part of our look at young people and the environment we caught up with Jennifer McWhirter, who shows us that keeping your options open and following your interests can be the route into a very interesting career.
Jenn’s quite open about the fact that the environment wasn’t at the top of her list when she saw the job advert for a Solicitor in SEPA. Having completed her traineeship in a small general legal practice she was looking for an opportunity to try something new, and was considering an in-house position as she’s always had a strong interest in organisational culture and business development outside a purely legal context.
“Before I saw the advert I didn’t know much about SEPA,” she admits, “although when I began researching in preparation for the interview I was extremely interested in the diverse workload the role entailed. Working in a small general legal practice every day was different with a varied, challenging workload – something I was keen to replicate, and which the role with SEPA offered.”
The variety in her role is immediately apparent when she starts to explain the different areas she works with. As well as providing legal advice and assurance throughout SEPA, for example employment advice to HR, commercial property advice to Facilities and Estates and ad-hoc advice to Procurement, Finance and others, she:
- reviews financial provisions for licensing regimes and financial guarantees for the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Unit;
- provides legal advice in relation to Access to Information requests, formal reviews and complaints;
- is involved in the corporate legal aspects of project work, including the LIFE SMART Waste project.
The Corporate Legal Services team also provides dedicated legal advice to flooding data licensing and the Information Project and the Water Environment Fund and River Basin Management Planning Unit.
So, even if it wasn’t the top consideration during her job search, is the environment important to her? “It’s become more important since I started working in SEPA and increased my awareness of different issues and the work being done to make improvements and educate people about the environment,” she explains. “Being involved in the review of Memorandums of Understanding has enabled me to have an understanding – although sometimes very basic when a project is particularly technical – across a whole range of areas that I would otherwise never have been exposed to.”
Jenn’s job as Acting Corporate Solicitor is vital to the organisation, but SEPA may not be an employer people studying law would consider. If there’s an area of work you’re interested in, look at different organisations to see what range of roles they have – there may one that’s perfect for you with an employer you would never have thought of. Jenn’s keen to stress that you shouldn’t be afraid to move out of your comfort zone and make the most of opportunities and experiences, “I don’t think you can underestimate the benefit and importance of transferable skills.”
Sometimes it can be frustrating when everyone around you seems to have worked out their career plan, and you’re still not sure – when actually it can lead to interesting moves and choices. When it comes to hints and tips for getting on that first rung of the career ladder she suggests keeping an open mind. “Look for opportunities in different places, including on social media. And network – if you see an event you are interested in, sign up and talk to people – you never know where it might lead.”
Like many of us Jenn fondly remembers the Young Scot card she had while at school “the discounts were always good”, and believes the Young Scot website is a fantastic source of information, advice and guidance for young people. As a result she’s looking forward to being one of SEPA’s representatives at this year’s Young Scot Awards, which take place on 27 April in Edinburgh.
“I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone, they’re all such inspiring young people and I’m honoured to be one of the young people representing SEPA this year.”
Along with Olivia and Sam she’s looking after the @SEPAStaff account this month, so make sure you follow them and get involved in the discussion.