How to Find a 'Green' Encore Career

Experienced workers with training as electricians, engineers or shop teachers are needed to train workers in green jobs such as installing and maintaining wind turbines.


As a veteran journalist, Lynne Curry knows how to spot trends. Newspapers and magazines are slashing their budgets, cutting into her income. But the new category of “green-collar jobs” is growing fast, despite the economic slowdown. So Curry earned a credential as a green building specialist.

Politicians and entrepreneurs alike herald green jobs as the next big thing to boost the ailing economy and fight climate change. And the new green economy is creating a host of encore career opportunities as well.

Curry, of Arcadia, Calif., spent about $1,400 for the training manual, workshops and test fee. She passed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation test on her first try (there’s a 40 to 60 percent pass rate), and now she’s permitted to use the LEED Accredited Professional (AP) acronym after her name. She’ll look for an apprenticeship with an architectural firm, a designer or a developer to advise them on how to design environmentally sustainable buildings that can achieve LEED certification.

There's a strong demand for such expertise, as more and more clients expect environmental consultants to have a LEED credential, according to a vice-president of an international engineering corporation. The number of people who have earned the LEED credential has exploded from a mere 500 in 2001 to an estimated 28,000 in 2008.

Other baby boomers are retooling to become managers in sustainability or alternative energy operations, vocational trainers of renewable energy skills, solar panel installers and assembly line workers in wind turbine plants. Renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies have generated 8.5 million new jobs and could grow to as many as 40 million jobs by 2030, according to a 2007 report by the American Solar Energy Society.

Here are some ideas for getting started on making an encore career out of saving the planet:

Repurpose your old skills into a new job. A former steelworker for 25 years, baby boomer Jim Bauer now leads a team that builds wind turbines in Pennsylvania for a Spanish company called Gamesa. Retired or retiring electricians, building engineers and shop teachers are in demand to train and advise young people eager for entry-level green-collar jobs.

A manager could become a sustainability director, a job in high demand in government, business and universities, according to Kevin Doyle, president of Green Economy, a Boston-based consulting and training firm. Typical responsibilities include setting goals to reduce an institution’s carbon footprint through transportation planning, improving energy efficiency, reducing waste and conserving water. Doyle says, “In these institutions, sustainability managers are often hired more for their leadership and communication abilities than for any detailed knowledge of technical sustainability practices.”

Become an eco-entrepreneur. Former lawyer Richard Cherry of New York City worked 20 years with the New York Urban Coalition before founding the Community Environmental Center. One of the center's many activities is providing home weatherization services to low-income residents and technical advice on green building design for residential and commercial buildings.

Attend a green conference. Identify speakers who pique your interest and then network like crazy. That’s how Lynne Curry learned about the LEED credential. For upcoming meetings, check your community college or university or environmental groups.

In addition, many states across the country are funding training in green-collar jobs and the federal government has authorized a major initiative called the Green Jobs Act. If funded, it would allocate $125 million to green-collar training. Plus, it would spend $2 billion to retrofit buildings and to make cities greener. However, Congress has not appropriated any money for this proposal yet.

Green may be one of the few sectors that continues to grow, despite the economic slowdown. President-elect Barack Obama has made green jobs a centerpiece of his economic recovery program. "We'll put our people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels, fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead," he said recently.

During the campaign, Obama promised to create 5 million new green jobs by investing $150 billion over 10 years to build a clean energy economy, including training, clean tech manufacturing and the retrofitting of buildings for energy efficiency.

Resources: 

The Green Building Certification Institute (gbci.org) provides information on LEED Certification and the accreditation process. Its parent organization, the U.S. Green Building Council (usgbc.org) provides background on the LEED system.

Treehugger.com’s job board (jobs.treehugger.com)lets you plug in your city and type of job you’re looking for to see what kinds of green jobs are available.

Greenjobsforamerica.org, a coalition of labor unions and environmental groups, is campaigning in 12 states on the East Coast and Midwest to promote green-collar jobs and training programs.

On Linkedin.com, you can search with terms like "green" and "nonprofit" in the Jobs section.

Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution - and How It Can Renew America is a compelling call to arms to save America and the planet by developing clean power and energy-efficient technologies.

Van Jones, founder and president of GreenforAll.org, lays out his vision for combatting climate change and poverty at the same time in The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems (HarperOne). A resource list includes tips for training and jobs.