An eco-career guru answers reader mail
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’ll explore the green job market and offer advice to eco-job-seekers looking to jumpstart their careers.
Here’s a career-development tip for would-be writers and bloggers: Don’t miss your deadlines! I’m sorry for letting so much time pass between postings.
To get back in your good graces, I’ve decided to dip into the mailbag and address some of the many questions you’ve asked. Happy reading, and thanks for your patience.
I am an undergraduate student trying to figure out my career path, as many of us are. I am looking at careers in either environmental science or environmental engineering — what job opportunities are available in these two fields? — Katherine M., British Columbia
Many of us are years removed from our undergraduate days and still “trying to figure out our career paths.” So join the club! You’ve selected two perfect career options for the early 21st century. There is a very strong demand for both environmental scientists and environmental engineers right now, and consulting firms are particularly looking for talented people.
The “environmental scientist” title is usually given to people who work on air- and water-quality issues and/or toil in fields like hazardous-waste management. Scientific fields that are not labeled “environmental scientist” by the-people-who-label-these-things include popular science options like conservation science, forestry, many specialties within biology, atmospheric science, earth science, chemistry, and a wide variety of technicians.
Within the narrow definition, there are around 70,000 enviro-scientists in the country, and their numbers are growing faster than the overall economy. Starting salaries are about $36,000 a year and top out around $85,000. Just under half of these professionals work for state and local government, and another 20 percent for the feds. The other third is in the private sector.
Job opportunities are even stronger for those with environmental-engineering degrees. There are some 55,000 such engineers, over half of whom work for consulting firms and other businesses. Entry-level salaries for people with Bachelor of Science degrees are over $50K, and high salaries for non-managers are up around six figures. The median is $66,000.
Good work. Good money. Good prospects. Looks good.
Rather than using my environmental science degree upon graduation (eight years ago), I steered toward a career in selling IT consulting and services. I am (now) finding remorse and attempting to locate sales positions with the environmental industry. Any advice? — Michael M., Cave Creek, Ariz.
I think you’re in luck. If we define the “environmental industry” as including both services and products in fields like renewable energy, organics, fair trade, environmental protection, landscape design, water resources, recyclables, forestry, science and engineering, waste management, and so forth, you will find plenty of opportunities for people with successful sales backgrounds. (Not to mention hawking Priuses at your nearest Toyota dealer).
If I were you, I would identify green goods or services that you really believe in, learn everything you can about the companies that lead the industry, prepare your “selling is a transferable skill” speech, take a deep breath, and go convince the sales director that “you da man.”
Be aware that a lot of sales positions are never posted. People get picked up through networking at industry events and trade shows, and by word of mouth. As in many sales jobs, you may be given a trial period to prove that you can bring in the cash to cover your costs.
I am a senior in high school, and I plan on attending a community college in the fall. I am positive I want to dedicate my life to preserving Mother Earth. The problem is that I am not quite sure how to get started in an environmental career. Help! — Ryan
There are so many directions you can take, and a community college or vocational degree is a great place to start. My space here is limited, so here are just a couple of stats to whet your appetite. There are over 220,000 “science technicians” in the nation, in subfields like chemical, biological, environmental, forest/conservation, agricultural, geological, and more. Growth is steady, if not outstanding. Over in the engineering world, there are more 100,000 civil and environmental engineering techs. Add in some 42,000 occupational health and safety technicians, and you get a pretty good picture. There are a lot of jobs.
To figure out whether your selected community college is a good investment, ask the program director for data about the current jobs of alumni from the last three to four years. That should tell you what you need to know.
That’s it for now, folks. Look for the next Remake a Living — on schedule! — next month.
Have a question for Remake a Living? Send an email to , or post a comment below.
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.