get started in your green-collar career
Find your niche
and then get all the
By DAN CHIRAS, PH.D.
it’s one of the questions I hear most often during my presentations and classes on green building and renewable energy: “How do I get a job in this field?”
Job openings in green building and renewable energy have fallen off due to the recession,
but there are always positions out there for
people with the right qualifications. And more
jobs will open as the economy recovers. I tell
job seekers to get going now. The strategies I’ve
outlined below can help you prepare for a job
in the construction-related green building and
renewable energy sectors, so you’ll be ready for
the right opportunity as soon as it’s available.
often, a training organization will offer a series of classes in a particular study — for example, intro to
solar electricity, intermediate solar electricity, photovoltaic (pv) system site assessment and a pv installation class. in a few weeks over the course of a year, you can complete your training, acquiring knowledge
and practical experience.
1. Find Your Focus.
First, determine what industry you’d like to
work in. Are you interested in green building?
Renewable energy? Energy efficiency?
In any of these fields, you could find employment in design, estimating, sales, project management or construction. Green building professionals can specialize in sustainable techniques for
retrofits or new construction, including design
and installation of efficient systems for HVAC,
lighting, water and landscaping, to name a few.
The renewable energy sector includes jobs in
passive solar heating and cooling, solar space and
domestic water heating, solar electricity, wind,
micro-hydro, geothermal and biofuels. It helps
to decide early on whether you are interested
in residential systems or large commercial-scale
systems. In residential renewable energy, you
may want to train in two or more technologies.
A lot of companies in the residential renewable
energy sector offer solar water-heating and solar
electric systems — and sometimes small wind
systems, as well. You might even want to consider site assessment for solar and wind systems
as a career or a service you offer.
If you’re interested in making homes and
businesses more energy efficient, you’ll find jobs
in home energy rating, home energy audits and
Don’t forget that green-collar jobs are available in equipment design and manufacturing,
as well as marketing, accounting and all of the
other positions any company needs in order to
operate. Educators are sorely needed, though
you need quite a lot of training and hands-on
experience to be a knowledgeable trainer. See
“Transfer Your Professional Skills to Solar” on
2. Get Up to Speed.
Once you have narrowed your focus, obtain
as much education as possible.
Training and Certificates. If you have the
time, a two- or four-year college or university
degree in a related field offers a solid foundation. Numerous community colleges and
technical colleges offer training in renewable
energy, especially solar electricity.
Another way to get up to speed is to take
short courses on renewable energy, green building or energy efficiency. The industry boasts many
top-notch educational centers, such as my training center, the Evergreen Institute (evergreen
institute.org); Solar Energy International (solar
energy.org); the Solar Living Institute (solarliving.
org); and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association ( the-mrea.org). The International Brother-page 36 for more about landing an “office” job
at a green company.