When it comes to careers, what does green mean? It's not a simple
question to answer.
"Everybody's got a different idea of what a green job is," says Jim Cassio.
He's an author and consultant who specializes in green workforce issues. "But
the fact is, if a job is good for the environment, if the employer is dedicated
to being environmentally responsible, then that's a green job.
"You have secretaries working in green jobs, you have laborers working
in green jobs, machinists, mechanics, every kind of scientist you can imagine,
any kind of engineer you can imagine, technicians -- so there's a whole range
of career possibilities," Cassio adds. "It just comes down to whether the
work is good for the environment."
The concern about doing what's good for the environment is affecting almost
every job and industry. Entirely new occupations are being created. And many
people in existing occupations must learn new, green skills.
"There's an incredible variety of green jobs out there," says Cassio. "I'm
speaking not only in terms of what types of skills and knowledge that employers
are looking for. The green jobs range from jobs that don't require any kind
of college work at all -- they can be learned on the job -- to jobs that require
PhDs and beyond."
Carol McClelland agrees. She's the founder of Green Career Central and
author of Green Careers for Dummies.
"There are all levels of jobs," says McClelland. "There are even ways to
'green' the job that they currently have just by changing their own work habits.
It's definitely a continuum from doing simple things to very elaborate green
jobs that are very focused, [where] that's all they do."
O*NET describes three categories of green careers. One is "Green Increased
Demand Occupations." This refers to occupations that have an increased need
Some examples are agricultural inspectors, bus drivers, chemical engineers,
electricians, and industrial health and safety engineers.:
Another category is "Green Enhanced Skills Occupations." In these occupations,
the essential purpose of the job hasn't changed, but people in these occupations
require additional skills and knowledge.
These are some examples: electrical engineers, farmers and ranchers, marketing
managers, and roofers.
"The enhanced skills (category) would be like something in building, where
it's still building -- the building trade hasn't changed -- it's just that
the approach that they're taking and the materials and the practices that
they're using have evolved to be more sustainable," explains McClelland.
"And so you still need a base knowledge in good, sound building practices
and then you can layer on top of it this enhanced knowledge and enhanced skills
to be able to build greener buildings or more sustainable buildings."
The third category is "Green New and Emerging (N&E) Occupations." These
are occupations that are significantly different from existing occupations.
Here are a few examples: biofuels processing technicians, carbon credit
traders, energy engineers, and green marketers.
Although there's a wide range of green jobs out there, getting one might
not be easy. Demand for most green jobs exceeds the supply of interested applicants.
"A lot of people are under the false impression that green jobs are for
the taking right now," says Cassio.
"People often find themselves in an unfortunate position where they're
competing for jobs with hundreds of other people, and of course in the job
market that we're living with today all jobs are pretty competitive, but green
jobs can be even more competitive than non-green jobs, and there's a couple
of basic reasons for that.
"One is that while green jobs include an incredible variety of job types,
skill levels, skill sets, and other characteristics, they're still small in
number," Cassio explains.
"And the best estimates view green jobs as being somewhere between one
and three percent of all of our jobs. Then you have the second problem of
a lot of people being interested in green jobs..."
One reason for that is because people see green jobs as an economic opportunity
in a bad economy, says Cassio. Another reason is that a lot of young people
are very concerned about the environment and want to do something about it.
"And then of course there are all the baby boomers who are looking at green
jobs with envy because they would like the last stage of their career to be
more meaningful," says Cassio.
"Consequently you have a small number of jobs and a large number of people
wanting those jobs, and that creates a very competitive job market where it's
not uncommon for employers to get 100 to 200 qualified job applicants for
a single job.
"[I]f they're convinced that they want a green job or green career, they
need to approach it as part of a long-term career strategy and not with the
expectation that the jobs are for the taking," says Cassio.
If you're thinking long-term, you don't want to focus your studies too
narrowly. A lot of green industries are in the early stages. Opportunities
are still taking shape -- some will fade away while others grow in the coming
"People should pursue a career that gives them options and not be too one-dimensional,"
says Cassio, "because things are changing and we don't know exactly what industries
are going to be at the forefront in 10 years and what careers are going to
undergo major changes during that time period."
A good foundation is getting a degree in the sciences or engineering. A
lot of green jobs rely on these types of skills.
"People with a hard-core scientific background -- engineers, people with
knowledge about very technical things -- I think that's where the biggest
crunch is right now in terms of workforce," says McClelland.
If science and engineering aren't your thing, there are other kinds of
green jobs available to you. For example, you can be involved in shaping the
green economy by working in areas such as finance or law.
Cassio says a science background is helpful but not essential for building
a green career.
"A person can have a green job or a green career even if they don't have
an interest or an aptitude for science, but it would certainly help if they
were good in math and science, that's for sure," says Cassio.
Although there are green jobs for all educational levels, Doreen Dewell
says it's best to continue your studies after high school. Dewell is president
of Green Ideas Network, which educates people and organizations about sustainable
"The number one thing is people need post-secondary education," says Dewell.
"I would suggest not being too specialized because environmental issues usually
draw from a broad variety of disciplines. In other words, you need to know
a little bit about various things rather than [being] too focused.
"Also, I would recommend not just the education but also getting out in
the community and volunteering as well, just for people to get a feel for
what people in the environmental area do," Dewell adds. "There are lots of
organizations that need volunteers."
Green Economy Map
Learn about all of the sectors of the green economy at Green
The Green Economy
Learn more about green jobs at the O*NET site