6 Hot Green Jobs and How to Get Them
Massive investments in renewable energy and clean tech will ensure that workers in the solar power, wind power, green building, sustainable development and recycling industries are in demand for decades to come. This short primer to green jobs and advice on how to get them will help you to make your decision on what career to go for and how to get it.
Solar Power Installer
Making and installing solar power systems already accounts for some 770,000 jobs globally. Installing solar-thermal water heaters and rooftop photovoltaic cells is a relatively high-paying job ($15 to $35 an hour) for those with construction skills. And opportunities are available all over the United States, wherever the sun shines. Currently over 3,400 companies in the solar energy sector employ 25,000 to 35,000 workers. The Solar Energy Industries Association predicts an increase to over 110,000 jobs by 2016 (even more if anticipated tax credits are accelerated).
Companies: Akeena Solar; Sungevity; Sunpower; Full list at SEIA.org.
Energy Efficiency Builder
Buildings account for up to 48 percent of US energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. LEED, the major green building certification, has over 43,000 accredited professionals. But the cutting edge in efficient buildings goes far beyond LEED. Buildings constructed according to Passivhaus and MINERGIE-P standards in Germany and Switzerland, respectively, use between 75% and 95% less heat energy than a similar building constructed to the latest codes in the US. Greening the US building stock will take not only skilled architects and engineers, but a workforce of retrofitters who can use spray foam insulation and storm windows to massively improve the R-value (thermal resistance) of the draftiest old houses. A study by the Apollo Alliance recommended an $89.9 billion investment in financing to create 827,260 jobs in green buildings — an initiative supported by the Obama stimulus package, which specifically mentions energy retrofits.
Schools: Arizona State University School of Architecture: Energy Performance Climate-Responsive Architecture; University of Michigan: Alfred A. Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning; The Earth Institute at Columbia University. Passive House Institute – US at www.passivehouse.us.
Wind Turbine Fabricator
Wind is the leading and fastest-growing source of alternative energy with over 300,000 jobs worldwide. Turbines are 90% metal by weight, creating an opportunity for autoworkers and other manufacturers to repurpose their skills. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry currently employs some 50,000 Americans and added 10,000 new jobs in 2007. Their job board is an excellent place to start looking for opportunities.
The total number of recycling jobs in the United States is at more than 1 million, according to recent reports (PDF, right click to save). Although the market for paper and plastic has slowed down recently due to the economic downturn, demand for steel is still strong — 42 percent of output came from scrap in 2006 — and recycling remains the economical alternative to high disposal fees. Worldwide more than 200,000 people work in secondary steel production, and the US is a major center of production. New laws and regulations are also creating a need for specialized companies that can close the loop by recycling and repurposing e-waste, clothing, plastic bags, construction waste, and other materials.
Companies: Rumpke; Greenstar North America.
Sustainability Systems Developer
The green economy needs a cadre of specialized software developers and engineers who design, build, and maintain the networks of sensors and stochastic modeling that underpin wind farms, smart energy grids, congestion pricing and other systems substituting intelligence for natural resources. Coders with experience using large scale enterprise resource planning have an edge here, as well as developers familiar with open source and web 2.0 applications.
Companies: IBM, V2Green, WindLogics
Urban and regional planning is a linchpin of the quest to lower America’s carbon footprint. Strengthening mass transit systems, limiting sprawl, encouraging use of bicycles and deemphasizing cars is only part of the job. Equally important is contingency planning, as floods, heat waves and garbage creep become increasingly common problems for metropolises. Employment in this sector is projected to grow 15 percent by 2016, and the jobs are mainly in local governments, which make them a slightly safer bet for the downturn.
Schools: Penn Institute for Urban Research; Harvard: Department of Urban Planning and Design; Portland State University: Nohad A Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning.
Tips for Getting into the Green Job Market
So you’ve just read about some of the top green jobs and you’ve found the one that’s just right for you. But how can you break into the green job market? Here are some tips that could help you make the transition to a green career.
Everyone is Learning on the Job
Don’t worry about starting at the bottom. You’re never going to have another opportunity in your career where the bottom is so close to the top. Someone with three or four years of solar experience right now is considered a top expert.
Go For Visionary not Reactionary
Go for a company that’s taking the green movement seriously, as opposed to a company that still thinks green is a sideline and you will go much further in your new green career. There’s a good chance that the winners are going to be companies that no one’s even heard of yet, like Ecotricity in the UK, or Solar Power Partners in the US. They’re the ones that are going to be leading the business world in the next ten years, especially in the transport and energy sectors.
Are They Green to the Core?
Pay attention from the moment you arrive for you interview. If a companies green commitment isn’t coming from the head of the company, it’s probably just green-wash. Check to see if they have recharging stations for electric cars in the parking lot? What kind of lighting is in the building? The company isn’t at the point of taking it seriously until being green is standard operating practice. Try to have a frank and honest Q&A during the interview. Ask questions about the companies views on green-washing and on the kind of steps it is taking to ensure it’s operations as well as it’s services and products are sustainable.
Get Excited About Learning
The world is about to experience the greatest change in product development and services that we’ve ever seen in our lifetime. For every job like wind turbine designer, there are eight to ten jobs that are needed to support that. Some people have anxieties about entering a new industry, but it’s also very exciting. It’s a thrilling place to be, if you like to learn. In terms of getting job training, don’t just focus on degrees, but also think about community colleges. Some of them have the best opportunities for retraining and job skills.