Published in the March 2010 issue of Next Step Magazine.
America is going green, and going green is going to take a lot of work. With the spotlight on the environment, new job opportunities are opening up.
These “green-collar” jobs provide good wages, and the training is affordable—usually requiring an associate degree at most. And with the help of $500 million in federal stimulus funds, many new training programs are appearing in order to meet the growing demand.
A study by the American Solar Energy Society showed that American green-collar jobs totaled more than 9 million in 2007, and as many as 37 million can be created by 2030. These jobs include building energy-efficient homes and businesses, restoring habitats, installing solar panels and wind turbines, and producing biofuels.
Find a job in: energy efficiency
Some of the fastest growing green-collar jobs involve designing and building modern, environmentally friendly buildings, and weatherizing homes and businesses to make them more energy efficient.
In order to help families and businesses save energy, workers insulate attics and walls, put caulking around windows, and install energy-saving appliances like solar water heaters.
Energy efficiency has created new careers in green architecture and energy auditing, while putting a new spin on traditional careers like heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) technicians, carpenters, electricians and plumbers.
Find a job in: renewable energy
Because of concerns about global warming and high oil prices, renewable energy—power generated from natural sources like the sun, wind and geothermal heat—is making up a growing part of our energy use. Solar power is another fast-growing field.
Career opportunities in solar energy include solar system installers and managers, solar engineers and engine assemblers. Meanwhile, wind has the potential to provide 20 percent of the nation’s energy needs, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
This means more engine assemblers, machinists and mechanical engineers are needed to build wind turbines. And then there’s geothermal energy, which is created by drilling wells into underground reservoirs to tap steam and very hot water. This requires welders, mechanics, plumbers, architects, geologists and hydrologists.
Find a job in: alternative fuels
The same concerns driving renewable energy have helped the growing popularity of alternative fuels, including biodiesel, ethanol and fuel cells.
In 2007, there were 1.8 million alternative fuel vehicles sold in the United States, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. These jobs are likely to grow even more as a result of legislation that requires the U.S. to sell 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022.
Some jobs in alternative fuels are ethanol plant and systems operators, ethanol plant technicians, electrical maintenance mechanics and biodiesel lab technicians.
Find a job in: habitat restoration
Habitat restoration is the process of cleaning up polluted habitats in order to re-establish healthy, self-sustaining ecosystems.
Along with many nonprofit organizations nationwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implements numerous conservation projects. Someone with a career in habitat restoration might restore salmon spawning beds, remove toxic algae and invasive species, plant native trees and other vegetation, or teach kids about protecting the environment.
Get your green education at a community college
“Community colleges have a large role to play in vocational skills training, especially in this day and age, with green-collar jobs,” says Linda Kurokawa, director of Community Services and Business Development at San Diego’s MiraCosta College (miracosta.cc.ca.us).
MiraCosta offers training for future solar and wind installers. These one-week accelerated courses give students hands-on preparation for longer, more involved apprenticeship programs offered by unions in San Diego.
Florida’s Palm Beach Community College (pbcc.edu) is offering a new degree program in alternative energy.
At Central Carolina Community College (cccc.edu), students can study green building, biofuels, sustainable agriculture, ecotourism or organic culinary arts.
Los Angeles Community College District’s (laccd.edu) green building program is a “living laboratory” for students, who are helping to revamp campuses with solar panels and power-generating windmills.