Over the past year, the topic of “Green Careers” as an option for employment has continuously surfaced with my clients. According to the United Nations Green Jobs report (2008), green jobs are those that contribute to maintaining or restoring environmental quality and avoiding future damage to the Earth’s ecosystems. Harkness (2009) states “for any process or strategy to truly be called “green” it must have an unwavering commitment to both energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.”

Green public servants find this sustainability “sweet spot” in problems and opportunities somewhere between social desirability, economic feasibility, and ecological viability. Because the green industry is so vast and complex, job seekers looking to enter the green workforce will want to focus on organizations that are concerned with the ecology of their business and community by making a commitment to the earth as something to be treated with respect. Client seeking a green job are essentially looking for employment in the following industries: Federal, state, and local government; not-for-profit organizations; academia; green businesses/departments in all industries; green departments in brown businesses; and the traditional environmental industry – basically, every industry that employs our workforce. It is no wonder the search for a green job is difficult and overwhelming. In order to navigate the muddy waters, job seekers need to hone their interests and skills before launching their search.

Breaking Down the Green Industry

Once a client expresses interest in a pursuing a green career, my first question is wind, solar, geothermal, biogas, or hydro? The possibilities are vast. For instance, in doing a keyword job search using “solar”, the following job titles appeared: Solar Fabrication Technician, Solar Lab Technician, Solar Hot Water Heater Manufacturing Technician, PV Fabrication and Testing Technician, Solar Installation and Maintenance, Solar Energy System Installer Helper, Solar Energy System Installer, Solar and PV Installation: Roofer, Solar Residential Installation Electrician, Solar Commercial Installation Electrician, ICE Technician, Solar Commercial Installation Engineering Tech, Solar Residential Installation Electrician Foreman, Solar Commercial Installation Electrician Foreman, Solar Commercial Installation Engineer, Solar Engineering/Design/Project Mgmt., Solar Energy Systems Designer, Solar Thermoelectric Plant Manager, Solar Operations Engineer, PV Solar Cell Designer, Solar Energy Engineer, and PV Power Systems Engineer. Whew! You can see where one might get intimidated.

Ten Skills “Green” Employers Want Applicants to Have

According to the USEPA Workforce Assessment Project, the green industry is looking for candidates who have excellent communication skills and the ability to collaborate effectively in a team. This industry also requires creative, innovative thinking to solve the variety of challenges ahead. A broad environmental understanding is desired; however, analytical ability and problem-solving skills are necessary. The green industry, like many others, seeks employees with a strong work orientation, professionalism, and a positive attitude. Finally, because the green industry is reshaping itself, leadership ability is essential.

Know Thy Self

Honing one’s interests and skills is a requirement for any job search, green careers included. To navigate your search successfully, follow these steps.

To begin, complete a self-assessment:  Look at what you like to do, what you’re good at, what kind of people you like to work with, and where your interests lie.  See what fits.

Next, conduct a workforce/reality assessment:  Examine job titles, employers, and employment trends to find opportunities.

Continue your research by looking for an educational match: Identify jobs and employers that match your formal education. If you are lacking in specific educational needed, college-level courses and degree programs are being developed and marketed to prospective students in the areas of green and sustainability. These include short courses or certifications in engineering departments and environmental science.

Finally, Happenstance:  One thing leads to another.  Something sparks an interest and you go with it.  A friend, family member or teacher introduces you to a career option. Use these situations to make decisions and take actions in accordance with what is needed to reach a future vision effectively. Regardless of training or experience, there is a place for everyone in the new energy economy.