As director of program development at The Environmental Careers Organization, Kevin Doyle knows a thing or two about job searching. In a new column for Grist, he’ll explore the green job market and offer advice to eco-job seekers looking to jump-start their careers.

Remake a Living: Green job prospects for 2006

Here we are in the first month of a whole new year. If you’re like me, you’ve already broken most of the champagne-fueled resolutions you made on New Year’s Eve. At least, you think you made some resolutions, and you’re pretty sure you broke them. The whole night was a little foggy, and anyway that was way back in 2005. But if one of your promises was to get a job this year in an environmental field, you may be in luck.

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I recently reviewed the 2006 environmental-activist job market with senior leaders from major nonprofits like the Natural Resources Defense Council, professional associations like the Land Trust Alliance, and activist-training programs like Green Corps. I asked about hiring trends in comparison with 2005, and about specific job titles and skills that are in special demand. Here’s what those in the know had to say.

Up, down, or sideways?

Want the bottom line first? This will be a year of slow job growth for activists, with many managers saying their hiring plans will be about the same as last year — but there will be exceptions.

“Money is tight, and even some of the bigger groups don’t have the resources to bring on staff,” said Green Corps’ Naomi Roth. Managers at a few of those groups confirmed her observation, and one national program director even joked that I should call back if I found a good job for him to apply for. (At least I think he was joking.)

But even a slow-growth nonprofit economy can provide opportunities. They may be spread out in small numbers across thousands of employers, but they add up. “I know there are a lot of jobs out there,” said Don Chen of Smart Growth America. His optimism was echoed in reports from Ezra Milchman, national director of the Land Trust Alliance, who said the group has a healthy list of job postings, and Charlie Miller, the communications director of Environmental Defense, who expects that group will do some hiring to help with “several major campaign efforts under way.”

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And although job growth may be less than ideal, Roth says 2006-2008 is shaping up to be a bullish period for activist work all over the nation as organizations prepare for some aggressive campaigns. My sources noted many of the same indicators when predicting a busy two or three years ahead. They include:

  • rising optimism that environmental issues could impact swing voters in the 2006 congressional elections;
  • increased awareness that climate change is real, oil prices are rising, coal is both environmentally destructive and often dangerous for workers, and that states and regions have to take independent action on energy policy in the perceived absence of national leadership;
  • concern that the environmental fallout from mining, drilling, and exploration on federal lands is even worse than expected;
  • citizen demand for a better response to traffic congestion, loss of open space, and other negative consequences of urban sprawl;
  • increased consumer interest in local agriculture, organic food, and “green” energy;
  • early jockeying for the 2008 presidential nominations.

Who’s in demand?

In a time of tight budgets, it will come as no surprise that development people (aka fund-raisers) are among those most needed. Nonprofit organizations run on foundation grants, memberships, government support, and individual contributions, so successful development people will never be out of work for long.

Program and campaign managers are also high on the hiring list. These managers must combine deep substantive knowledge, innovative program design, exceptional management and leadership skills, technological savvy, streetwise political instincts, and the ability to develop and maintain relationships with other stakeholders. (Sounds like you might need to wear a cape and have a big “S” on your chest as well.)

Communications, marketing, and PR types can also expect a good year of job opportunities throughout the nation. Environmental activist groups are keenly aware that both their political success and their fund-raising results are strongly connected to their ability to get attention in the media and their own communications efforts via print, web, and the tube.

Many organizations also need staffers who can help bring environmentalism into the broader mainstream of business, government, and community life in the year ahead. “I encourage people to look outside the conventional environmental activist job market,” says Chen. “Consider working with employers in a wide variety of fields, including land development, transportation, real estate, historic preservation, housing, and community development.” The skills of businesspeople, lawyers, policy experts, and scientists will be in demand across many areas, sources say.

Finally, there is an acknowledged national need for more, and better, community organizers — the ground troops of the environmental movement. If you’re interested, heed the advice of Roth at Green Corps: “I’m looking to hire people who are smart, political, and committed to organizing — people who are ready to work hard and are ambitious, self-motivated team players. I want people who are political, who see environmental problems as personal problems.”

Sound like you? Then 2006 just might be the year that you actually keep one of your New Year’s resolutions. So go celebrate! In a future column, I’ll offer detailed strategies and tactics to help you begin to remake your living.

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Kevin Doyle is the national director of program development for 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.