Get Started Green: Choosing Eco Employment

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Are you looking to get in on the growing green economy? Earth911 sat down with Michael DiRamio, program director for sustainable communities for Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, to find out how you should get started on your green career path.

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Photo: Stock Photo

1. Use your strengths

Do you know you want to get started on a green career path but aren’t sure how? Resist the urge to start from scratch with a brand new career, DiRamio suggests. Instead, assess the strengths, skills and knowledge you already have and go from there.

“I think there’s a little bit of a problem with thinking about ‘green jobs’ as entirely new jobs…that you need new training in,” DiRamio says. “Often most of the skills that you need for a job that’s conserving energy or resources or reducing pollution are in traditional industries.”

If you already have a technical skill or are experienced in a certain industry, think about ways you could use your experience to help the environment. For example, if you work in construction, a career in energy efficiency retrofits or deconstruction projects may be for you. If you’re an electrician, you’ll likely require minimal training for a career in solar panel installation.

Making the most of your skills and experience lessens the stress that often comes with a big career change. It also helps you make the switch more easily and quickly, as you may only need a few classes to “green” your skills, as opposed to several years of training in a brand new field.

If you’re still in school, unemployed or craving a dramatic career change, you’ll probably need a fair amount of training before embarking on your new green career. Do your research first to find out how much time and money it will take to get the training you need, and use that information to decide whether or not the field you chose is right for you.

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2. Know the market

Understanding trends and current events is a big part of making your career switch successful. Read up on national green jobs reports, like the recent “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment” from the Brookings Institution to stay informed on the number of new green jobs, the industries where green jobs are most needed and the market demand overall, suggests DiRamio.

But don’t get too hung up on national statistics. As the Brookings Institution report shows, every region has a different set of strengths in the green economy – meaning job growth may be higher or lower in certain industries depending on where you call home.

“Don’t just look at the national news…Connect locally with information sources and organizations that really know the local environment, the employers in the region and that region’s strengths,” says DiRamio.

Some states, including Pennsylvania, Washington, California and Michigan, have released green jobs reports that track job growth throughout the state and project future numbers. Not sure how to track down your state’s green jobs report? A simple Web search with your state’s name and the words “green jobs report” should point you in the right direction.

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3. Explore training resources

Whether you’re employed or not, you’ll probably need a bit of training to get you started on a career in green. While local job training centers, community colleges and universities may sound like obvious places to start, DiRamio says these choices are still the most practical.

“If [you] are already employed and want to make a change, check with a local community college or university about training resources,” suggests DiRamio.

“Community colleges and job training centers should have people working with employers, getting a sense of where the demand is for a kind of skill and making sure that the courses that are being taught are as closely tied to what employers are saying is needed,” he says.

If you are unemployed or seeking a career in an entirely new field, start with training centers that offer job placement assistance to help you get your foot in the door.

For additional resources, check out MySkillsMyFuture.org – a Department of Labor-sponsored site that matches your current or past jobs to green careers with similar skills. Once you’ve found a career match that strikes your fancy, simply type in your zip code to find training near you.

If you’re still in school, schedule an appointment with your academic advisors, and ask them about environmentally-related courses within your current major. Once you’ve narrowed your focus, start with one class to gauge your interest in the field. If you find yourself falling asleep, you may want meet with your advisors again to discuss additional options.

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4. Start with your own company

Most of us picture a daunting job search when we think about making the switch to a green career. But if you’re already employed, starting within your own company is often more successful, DiRamio says.

“In my view, every job has the potential to be a ‘green job’ if we want to make it that way,” DiRamio says. “Most green jobs are in pretty traditional industries.”

Take the initiative to complete a class or two at your own expense. Then schedule a meeting with your supervisor to discuss how your growing green skill-set can help the company. This may lead to an exciting new career path for you and a more eco-friendly focus for your whole office.

“There are opportunities for people to sell their skills internally…and say ‘I learned this new skill; I think I can help us save some money,’” DiRamio says. “Everybody’s looking to save money now.”

“Take a class in something that seems directly relevant to your current occupation, think about ways it could be applied in your company and propose those ideas [to your manager],” DiRamio suggests. “Then you start to become an internal change agent within your company.”

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5. Get smart about your search

If you’re unemployed or looking for a job outside of your current company, get smart about your search to avoid stress and wasted effort.

Feel out the market and find opportunities near you by searching job boards that focus on environmental or social responsibility – like EcoEmploy and GreenJobSearch.org.

To meet fellow job-seekers and professionals in the field, check out an informal Green Drinks gathering, or head to a local job fair for a little face-to-face time with potential employers.

For even more tips on finding (and landing!) your dream green job, check out Earth911′s job search guide.

Get Informed: Best Ways to Find a Green Career

Mary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni

Based in the Phoenix metro area, Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.

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