As the application stage for our graduate trainee scheme draws to a close this Friday, we have one final My World of this series. We speak to Fiona Johnstone, who works in our newly formed Sector Team.
What is your educational background?
I have a first class honours degree in Civil Engineering and a MSc in Wastewater & Environmental Management, both from the University of Abertay in Dundee.
What attracted you to working in SEPA?
My first interaction with SEPA was when I was working as a waste water quality specialist for the North of Scotland Water Authority (now Scottish Water). We would have regular meetings with SEPA staff and I was always impressed with their knowledge of the industry and the water environment. The more I found out about their jobs and SEPA, the more I wanted to work there.
The remit of an environment protection officer (EPO) is so wide and varied, it makes the job extremely interesting. No two days were the same, and when I saw an advert for an EPO in a local office, I jumped at the chance to apply.
What work are you involved in?
Initially I was involved with the waste industry, inspecting landfills and waste premises, and learning about the waste industry, waste management licences and enforcement. I then moved into regulating water discharges, dealing mainly with waste water treatment plants and responding to water pollution incidents.
I was then asked to form a team of SEPA inspectors to deal with the applications for permits from the intensive agriculture sector, which were a new sector to the Pollution Prevention and Control regulations. This involved liaising with farmers and trade bodies, as well as writing permits, and carrying out inspections.
Until very recently, I was a PPC specialist in the Falkirk Alloa and Stirling team. This was a very varied and interesting job. I regulated many different industrial premises, which included glass factories, abattoirs, anaerobic digestion plants and a large particleboard manufacturer. I was responsible for ensuring that the companies met the conditions within their permits, inspecting the premises on a regular basis, and carried out enforcement action if required. Issues with the sites ranged from odour issues, to dust and noise.
Relationship building with the operators was essential, as well as liaising with community groups. I’m now working in SEPA’s new Sector Team, which is going to help take forward SEPA’s new One Planet Prosperity Regulatory Strategy.
What are your green credentials?
I have two young boys, and they take great delight in separating out our waste into the various recycling bins, and waving to the binmen as they collect the bins!
I’m quite particular in trying to minimise the amount of food waste we produce in our house, so we try to plan our meals ahead and ensure that leftovers can be reused into something else (usually in a soup).
What is your favourite Scottish environment?
The River Tay holds something special for me. I love the journey it takes through Perthshire before it widens out under the two bridges in Dundee. As a Dundonian, I have been lucky enough to wake up to a view of the river every day, and my daily commute to Perth also takes me along a part of its journey.
What advice do you have for any graduates considering applying to SEPA?
The advice I would give any graduate is to apply for a graduate job with SEPA. The variety of the work you will be involved with is second to none and the experiences you will get are invaluable. The people that work for SEPA are so knowledgeable that you will learn so much in whatever discipline you choose. Grab every opportunity and you just never know where it will take you!
Further information about our graduate trainee scheme can be found on our website. The closing date for applications is Friday 24 March 2017 at midday.