The Green Career Outlook
See how "green-collar" careers could potentially help get America back to work.
The financial crisis...the unemployment crisis...oil spills and global warming.
You don't have to look very far these days to see that all is not right with the world.
But there's one notable silver lining to all those dark clouds: a "green revolution" that has the potential to help clean up the planet.
The "green-collar" sector is a fast-growing part of the economy, providing many viable potential careers at a time when some more traditional blue- and white-collar jobs are drying up or being shipped overseas.
The President's Council of Economic Advisors estimates that more than 800,000 green jobs have been created through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
That's a lot of green jobs! But what is a green job?
Green jobs, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), include "work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development, administrative, and service activities, that contributes substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality."
That's a pretty broad definition, so here are four specific examples of green gigs you might hope to pursue…
Green-Collar Career #1 - Environmental Scientist
This green gig involves the application of science to protect the environment in a wide variety of ways, including air and water management, land conservation, and waste disposal. Environmental scientists work for state and local governments or private companies.
Some environmental scientists could start with a bachelor's degree in environmental science, but many study biology, chemistry, and other related disciplines before specializing. Strong computer skills could potentially give you an advantage when pursuing a career in this field.
Salaries started at around $39,000, on average in July 2009 for those with a bachelor's degree in environmental science, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The average wage for environmental scientists and specialists was $59,750 in May 2008, with top earners averaging at more than $100,000.*
Green-Collar Career #2 - HVACR
The combined field of heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) offers some of the brightest prospects in the green job market. In fact, the Department of Labor projects that employment of HVACR technicians will grow 28 percent from 2008-2018.
HVACR technicians install, maintain, and repair the systems that control the climate in our buildings - one of the simplest and most effective ways in which we can make our environment greener.
While some employers offer on-the-job preparation, many prefer applicants with a technical school background, acording to the U.S. Department of Labor. Completion of a formal apprenticeship is also preferred.
Heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers had a median hourly wage of $19.08 in May 2008. Top earners averaged at more than $30.59 per hour.*
Green-Collar Career #3 - Urban or Regional Planner
The work of urban and regional planners focuses increasingly on environmental issues, as well as social and economic factors.
In addition to crafting recommendations on where to build a school or how best to organize a road system, urban and regional planners also consult on issues like wetland preservation, forest conservation, and where to locate a new landfill.
A broad range of bachelor's degrees could potentially help prepare you to pursue a career in urban or regional planning, including economics, geography and urban design. After that, you'll probably need to go on and pursue a master's in urban or regional planning.
According to the Department of Labor, the median annual salary for urban and regional planners is $59,810. Top earners in this position average at $91,520.*
Green-Collar Career #4 - Green Tech Entrepreneur
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says that what we need in order to solve our green energy problem is "100,000 Dean Kamens [Segway inventor] in 100,000 garages trying 100,000 things, so maybe ten of them will come up with that holy grail of abundant, cheap, clean reliable electrons."
If you're planning to strike out on your own and want to pursue a career as an entrepreneur, a bachelor's degree in business could be a good place to start. A working knowledge of thermodynamics and particle physics could also serve you.
Solid negotiating skills could help you get a good deal on the rent from mom and dad, or whoever owns the garage. After that, all you'll need is a little inspiration, and the sky's the limit!
Earning potential will vary greatly for entrepreneurs.
*Average salary data is from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.