You hear it over and over again: environmental jobs are the future. Still a young industry, the green job market spans renewable energy, building design, engineering, environmental education, science, and beyond. And the sector is growing at a rate that will only continue to increase.
But how does one—either fresh out of high school or with years of experience—get a green job? Do you need a special degree?
According to Renewable Energy News, it depends. They interviewed Pat Fox, director of operations at the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), who noted that renewable energy businesses need a variety of occupations, including accountants, administrators and assistants, lawyers, managers, and sales people. In other words, you might already have skills that translate to industry jobs.
For example, Tom Rawls, our VP of sales and marketing, entered the industry through his journalism career, which led him to work for magazines that covered environmental topics—from food and agriculture, to wildlife, to forestry and land use, to toxins. After writing about these issues for a number of years, he crossed the fence and became more directly involved in working on renewable energy and climate change.
But for other career paths, formal education in environmental matters can be important.
Aaron Witham, M.S. in natural resources candidate and Transportation Research Center scholar at the University of Vermont, feels that getting an advanced degree will help him be more effective in the field. “I worked as interim sustainability coordinator at Unity College, but the entire time I found myself wanting to do more, know more. I decided to attend graduate school to gain an in depth knowledge of ecological economics, regulations, and modeling tools. This will help me develop more viable environmental solutions."
One thing is clear: increasingly major universities are offering advanced degrees in environmental studies, often combining an M.B.A. with an environmental master's. Here at NativeEnergy, we’ve recently worked with people with degrees from the University of Michigan, Yale, Tufts, Cornell, and Duke.
Whether you decide to pursue an environmental degree or not, the first step is to decide what job you want and research how to get there. Reflect on your own personality and what positions are suited to your preferences and talents. Read everything you can about the subject. And don’t forget to talk to acquaintances in the industry about their career histories.
For more information about green job opportunities, we recommend Green Careers in Energy, published in 2010 by Peterson’s. This book pinpoints opportunities in the renewable energy fields—solar, wind, geothermal, and more—and includes a listing of courses, degrees, certification, and training. Better still, our very own Mary Panks-Holmes wrote an essay for the book!