STEPHEN SUMMERHAYES has had a circuitous educational career. The 43-year-old came to his job in environmental science after a period of training that spanned four degrees.
The latest quarterly results from the Herald-Lateral Economics wellbeing index revealed an increase in the amount of formal qualifications held by Australian workers.
Mr Summerhayes is a prime example. Growing up near the bush gave him a love of the environment. But good marks at school pushed him towards law.
''I did what I could do rather than follow my heart.'' He remembers the study as tedious but he felt obliged to complete it. After being admitted as a solicitor at 24, he spent 10 years in commercial law and litigation.
''After investing so much time studying I thought I should earn some money from it,'' he said.
He used that money to fund two further courses, in international development and environmental science. ''I approached it with a vigour that wasn't present in my youth,'' he said.
During a year in Argentina, he completed a master's in environmental science with a thesis based on earlier research on the changing ecology of the Hawkesbury.
The degree gave him the tools to navigate the system of government in which he works. ''It gave me more of a leg-up, to conduct the research at a much higher level: collaborating with the council, government and community,'' he said.
Mr Summerhayes now works for the Sydney Coastal Councils Group on issues such as water quality and sea level rises.
His law degree is useful for drafting submissions. And he uses Spanish in his volunteer work tutoring new migrants.
''People evolve and new studies provided me with a catalyst for developing,'' he said.