A thorough job search reveals skills in high demand
As director of program development at The Environmental Careers Organization, Kevin Doyle knows a thing or two about job searching. In this recurring column for Grist, he explores the green job market and offers advice to eco-job-seekers looking to jumpstart their careers.
Is it hot out there, or is it just me? Lately, I’ve been hearing from employers who can’t find the talent they need and more than a few lucky job seekers who have multiple offers. Are these just random anecdotes, or is the environmental job market heating up along with the summer thermometer?
In an effort to track down the story (and spend some paid time surfing the ‘net), my crackerjack research staff devoted a day to searching government, nonprofit, “green business,” and consulting websites for job postings. Here’s what we found:Federal government
Uncle Sam’s environmental protection and resource management agencies were offering 860 new, permanent jobs on the day we checked. To be sure we found them all, we clicked through thousands of listings at USAJOBS and cross-checked 11 agency websites. In addition to permanent jobs, there were hundreds of seasonal, temporary, and internship offerings. Sound good? Not really. For a little perspective, consider that those 860 jobs make up less than one percent of the government’s estimated “green” workforce of 150,000+ permanent employees.
If numbers alone are any guide, job-seekers should take a look at the Department of Agriculture. The USDA is home to the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. These two agencies accounted for 30 percent of the jobs posted, and agency reps said there are worrisome signs that a long-predicted retirement crisis is underway.
Our July survey suggests that people looking for permanent jobs at the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and Geological Survey may need a magnifying glass. The four agencies combined posted only 153 jobs, and several of those had restrictions on who could apply.
Who are the feds looking for? The job descriptions vary wildly, but many of the openings fell into four categories:
- engineers (seriously in demand, with real concern about how the government will compete for good ones)
- conservation scientists (foresters, hydrologists, ecologists, soils specialists, and range managers)
- contracting specialists
- information technology and geographic information systems specialists
We visited the websites of all 50 state governments and searched available jobs for anything that seemed remotely “environmental.” The final tally? At least 3,000 permanent state government jobs are out there right now for you public-service searchers. Not bad.
Fields in demand included:
- public/environmental health
- engineering and engineering tech
However, there were fewer air, water, solid waste, hazardous waste, forestry, fisheries, parks, and wildlife jobs than expected. California was, by far, the largest employer seeking environmental types, with 350 current openings. North Carolina and Washington State were among those with over 100 eco-jobs.
Environmental engineering and consulting firms
Whoa, folks. There are a lot of available jobs in this sector. We made our way through the websites of 40 of the 200 largest national and international environmental firms before we got bored and lost interest ended our scientifically valid and statistically significant survey. Those 40 firms alone had environment-related announcements for well over 5,000 permanent jobs.
Observers of the green job scene have known for years that agencies and corporations outsource a big part of their environmental work to the “environmental industry,” but reading page after page of job descriptions really brought the point home.
Surprisingly, many recruiters say that they just can’t find enough talented, qualified, and interested candidates to fill these positions. The most in-demand recruits are:
- scientists and technicians
- people with financial analysis, budgeting, estimating, project management, and business management skills
So who are these guys? From the 40 firms we examined, these 10 had the highest number of jobs currently available: URS, HDR, PBS&J (can’t these guys afford whole words?), Jacobs, M. Baker Corporation, The Shaw Group, AECOM, MACTEC, Burns & McDonnell, and AMEC.
Hundreds of environmental and conservation groups in the U.S. hire paid staff. We selected 50 — from the largest (Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, NRDC, NWF, CI, and other well-known acronyms) to the smallest grassroots groups. Grand total from all 50 combined? 291 permanent jobs — 105 of which (!) were at The Nature Conservancy.
And what did we conclude from examining these jobs? Well, fundraisers are highly in demand everywhere, my friends. If you can bring in those dollars, you will never want for a job in the environmental nonprofit world. Significant opportunities are also available for people with marketing and communication skills, including website design and management. Community and campaign organizers are well represented in the mix, although significantly underpaid — as always. We saw that many smaller organizations appear to be seeking new executive directors. Finally, it seems that many groups are strengthening the business side of their organizations with accountants, tech people, administrative assistants, bookkeepers, and so forth.
“Green Business” Companies
This sector includes firms in organic food and products, alternative energy, green building, brownfield redevelopment, socially responsible investing, clean technologies, sustainable forestry, recycling, etc. We chose wind energy as an indicator industry because it’s been growing at a lively clip for several years — and because the American Wind Energy Association offers a career center including links directly to current job postings at leading companies. By this time, we were feeling the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome and getting awfully hungry as well. Hooray for AWEA.
After reviewing job postings at 23 different wind energy companies, we found 353 relevant jobs. FPL Group, GE Wind, and Vestas had the most openings, but Clipper, Northern Power, and PPM Energy had a healthy number as well.
If you’re guessing that the task of manufacturing, installing, and maintaining wind turbines is largely a job for engineers and technicians, you’re right on target. Moreover, there is a window of opportunity to get in on the proverbial ground floor, because (for the moment) there are more jobs available than there are qualified people to fill them.
That’s our take on the green job market. What’s yours? Whether you’re looking to hire — or looking to be hired — share your stories and observations with the rest of us.
(One more thing. Grist has two permanent job openings and two internships posted right now. Check ‘em out!)
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Kevin Doyle is the national director of program development for the The Environmental Careers Organization in Boston. He is coauthor of The ECO Guide to Careers That Make a Difference: Environmental Work for a Sustainable World and The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers in the 21st Century.