Current Careers in Energy

By Helen Harkness


Though I am a long time career consultant and confirmed futurist, providing the last word on green careers pushed me to use my more experienced clients and contacts as resources.  My company, Career Design, sponsors Pathfinders for the Future to provide career information and mentoring sessions on careers of the future. For the past six months we have focused on the energy field. I have asked two of my contacts, Tony Robinson, M.S., a twenty-five year veteran in the design and development of energy efficient building productsand Eric Woodroof, Ph.D., a professional in the energy efficiency and environmental field who helps businesses and governments reduce their environmental impactto write a summary of their insights and the possible opportunities and challenges for careers in this exploding industry.


What is "green"?by Tony Robinson, M.S. 


Employers and prospective employees alike may reasonably ask what this now ubiquitous adjective really means.  There is an overabundance of information, advertising, advice, prescriptions, etc., but there are really only two fundamental characteristics which can define the term.  For any process or strategy to truly be called "green" it must have an unwavering commitment to both energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.  For example, there are ways to make coal plants more efficient, but mining and burning coal ultimately cannot be environmentally sustainable.  It is important that those making a commitment to the field, whether employer or employee, understand this concept.  Otherwise, the process or strategy is likely to receive the unwanted derogation of "greenwashing", an attempt to gain market share or increase profits through a public relations campaign based on superficial effects.  It's important to state that the commitment to energy efficiency and environmental sustainability is a learning curve and that we are still very nearly at the beginning of the curve.


      Since there are a very great number of processes which can be made more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable, there is tremendous opportunity to employ people in a wide variety of disciplines to achieve these goals.  A fundamental re-tooling of our personal habits and our mechanized processes can provide tremendous impetus to train those who do not already have the skills, or who have skills derived from the industrial economy and need to be re-trained.  There are five general areas of production: 

●    Transportation

●    Fuels

●    Utilities

●    Buildings

●    Manufacturing

      Organizations that are committed to "green" are looking for people who are highly motivated to "make the world a better place", through the application of rational and holistic thinking which is not entirely subordinate to the quarterly profit statement.  The "green" organization is one that is properly concerned with the ecology of its own community and the community around it.  It does not exist in a vacuum of "free market" necessity, but recognizes that the earth is a community which becomes closer by the day and which must be respected and sustained.


      There are numerous certifications, rating systems, degrees, etc. which may be used to qualify a prospective employee for application to a "green" organization.   But the number one qualification has to be complete dedication, because the road to true energy efficiency and environmental sustainability is long.   The Association of Energy Engineers provides certification in Energy Management, Sustainable Development and Green Building Engineering.  In the field of construction, there are at the present time five or six competing rating systems for the evaluation of "green" building, e.g.: IECC, Energy Star, NAHB, LEED, Green Globes and more.  Some rating systems are mandatory and others are elective and it may be several years before the jurisdictions of the codes and the proscriptive programs are clearly defined.  That being said, college-level courses and degree programs are being developed and marketed to prospective students in the areas of "green" and sustainability.  These include short courses or certifications in engineering departments and environmental science, as well as community colleges.  Regardless of training or experience, there is a place for everyone in the new energy economy


Profitable Green Solutionsby Eric Woodroof, Ph.D. 

For those applying to "green" organizations, consider that employers are looking for specific knowledge and commitments.  Many "green" industries are expanding by providing ever-increasing value in our carbon-constrained world.  However, with all this innovation and new terminology, it is important to be able to determine credibility and professionalism among companies as well as potential employees, when so many "green" people are new to the field.  The following questions can help employers but they also give a "heads-up" to potential employees applying to green companies.

Ask potential employees about their specific focus/experience...

      The "Green Field" encompasses many niches, including: Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Green Building Designers, Green Janitorial Services, Green Landscaping, Carbon Emissions Strategies, Green Fuels and many more.  When looking to hire, look specifically at what types of projects candidates have done.  For example, renewable power experts will likely not be able to help you conserve energy in your facility, but they can help you produce energy. .  In evaluating a potential employee, ask where their passion is... if they just say, "Sustainability", that may be too broad and naive for your needs.   

 Ask about their professional credentials... 

      If you are looking to build a new building, you should consider hiring someone who has the "LEED- AP" distinction- it means that they have at least passed a test on "green" building design. LEED means Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is a relatively new distinction among building designers.  If you are looking for more technical skills relating to energy management of facilities, consider a Certified Energy Manager (CEM).  If you are looking for someone to understand the new area of carbon reduction/strategy, perhaps the Carbon Reduction Manager certification would be important.  There are other credentialing systems available in each of the "green trades", so consider people who have at least passed a recognized exam showing competency.  It is even better if they are actively involved in a professional association and collaborating with others for further development, as this is a rapidly evolving field.  To make the point, consider hiring a computer expert who was only trained to service products up to Windows 95... it wouldn't work very well.

Finally, it really is about people... 

      As with other industries, most people go through the same evaluation/hiring process, but something I have noticed with highly successful "green" professionals is that most of them have a hobby that is connected to nature.  For example, hiking, sailing, photography, etc., or they have some compelling reason or point in time that they became committed to helping the planet. It keeps them "on course" and passionate about the "good" that they are doing.  This high level of commitment is necessary, as the challenges ahead are enormous.  So ask candidates, "when did you become passionate about your career"... if they don't have an answer, they may not be that committed.


Helen Harkness, Ph.D. founded Career Design Associates, Inc. (CDA) in 1978.  She is a futurist, consultant, researcher, experienced speaker, teacher, writer, and a pioneer in the development and implementation of career management programs. She has published Best Jobs for the Future; The Career Chase;  Don't Stop the Career Clock; Capitalizing on Career Chaos. Dr. Harkness currently broadcasts a weekly show, discussing current career issues affecting the workplace on www.responsibleradio.com.  She can be reached at options@career-design.com  

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