Take a leaf out of my book: Ben Robey

This month marks our first careers blog, 'Take a leaf out of my book', where we ask people every month who work in an environmental area to write about their career journey to date: highs and any low points, challenges and accomplishments.

Our first post is from Ben Robey who leads the Clean Growth team in the Department for International Trade. Ben talks about the appeal of working on a new area for the department, interesting conversations with an MP that sparked an interest in the sector, and advice on finding roles that match your interests.

Ben Robey

I have led the Clean Growth team in the Department for International Trade since December 2019. The team’s role is to build on existing work, which has traditionally focused on energy decarbonisation, to support and drive the clean growth agenda across DIT. Clean growth is about maximising the economic opportunities from the global decarbonisation agenda and trade and investment are critical tools to achieving the UK’s domestic Net Zero target and global climate ambitions.

Why did you take this job?

After studying a masters in global environmental policy, I looked for roles in the international climate policy space. At first, I was dubious about taking a climate-related role in DIT given the tensions between trade and climate. However, when the role in DIT’s clean growth team was advertised, I was inspired by the opportunity of shaping a brand new direction for the department and potentially having real impact. Climate is still a very new area for DIT. This gives us the opportunity to be creative, which excites me.

What initially sparked your interest in the environmental sector?

During my university studies, I worked part-time for my local MP. Fracking was a big issue at the time and there were plans for exploratory sites in the constituency, which the MP supported. On behalf of the MP I drafted responses to letters from angry constituents where I found myself agreeing with a lot of the environmental concerns raised. It made for some interesting conversations with the MP!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue an environmental Civil Service career?

You are not going to solve the biggest issues of our time like climate change or biodiversity loss alone. Be prepared to navigate a complex landscape and welcome the debate. I learned very quickly that there is always going to be someone with more expertise and experience than you, and that’s great! This is a complex area and there are no easy answers, but people working in this space have such genuine passion and intelligence that solutions can be found.

Looking back, what career advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?

There are a lot more careers out there than doctor, lawyer, teacher ... I make a real point of not asking children ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?' This question haunted me as a child. You don’t (and probably shouldn’t) find a ‘civil servant’ costume in the fancy dress box! 10 years ago I was focused on finding a ‘career’ rather than narrowing down what I enjoyed and was passionate about. Once I figured out my interest in environmental policy, the ‘career’ seems to come a lot more naturally.

How did you go about finding roles that matched your skills/interest?

For me, I’ve taken the opposite approach. In the past I would see ‘dream’ roles on Civil Service Jobs but which I knew I didn’t quite have the right skills/knowledge for at the time. Instead of pursuing a promotion or a new job that matched my current skills, I made the decision to take on opportunities to develop new skills and experience relevant to those dream roles. This ultimately led me to undertake a masters part-time, when I became really serious about wanting to work in environmental policy.

Ben Robey

How do you connect with nature?

The concept of ‘wilderness’, particularly in the USA, really fascinates me. I’m always looking for spaces in nature where I cannot see or hear anything man-made, like kayaking in the Manchac swamps in New Orleans, walking in the Lake District, or swimming in the sea. However, like most millennials, most of the time I have to settle for the plants that fill my small London flat!

If you want to get in touch with Ben to ask any further questions, you can email him at ben.robey@trade.gov.uk