Jumping into the Green Job Market
With record numbers of people out of work, the prospect of an emerging green economy is increasingly viewed as the light at end of a long dark tunnel by many jobseekers, especially those from industries that are retooling -- or retreating -- as tough times persist.
Questions abound about how to penetrate the new job market and pursue opportunities.
Nick Ellis, a managing partner of Bright Green Talent, an environmentally focused executive search firm whose services recently expanded to include one-on-one career coaching, is quick to dispel what he says has already become a "classic myth" in the nascent green job market.
"Searching for a green job isn't very different from searching for a conventional job," says Ellis.
GreenBiz.com asked Ellis and Tom Ballantyne, a professional career coach who works with a career management consulting firm and maintains his own practice, for their advice on entering the green job market and if they have special tips for experienced workers who are looking for new opportunities following layoffs.
The U.S. unemployment rate rose to 8.1 percent in February, the highest since 1983. Since December 2007, considered the start of the recession, 4.4 million jobs have evaporated from the economy. And during the 15 months ending last February, companies have conducted 28,481 mass layoffs -- reductions in force involving 50 or more people -- prompting more than 2.9 million people to file for unemployment.
The advice from Ballantyne and Ellis, summarized here, should resonate with professionals who are in transition as well as others entering the market.
The first steps are to get "educated, informed and networked," Ellis says. That education can eventually involve further training and new credentials, but before broaching those prospects the most important thing to do is read up on the growing environmental responsibility movement and its effects on business and the economy.
"Get to know what's driving it, who is driving it, who is thriving and identify the organizations you think you can help" based on experience, existing skills and interests that would translate well in a new field, says Ellis.
And in selecting resources, he says, "determining what's quality information and what's fluff is important." In addition to GreenBiz.com, Ellis recommended the Center for American Progress and Green for All, whose founder Van Jones was recently named the special advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, as online resources.
Eighty percent of jobs are landed through networking, Ellis and Ballantyne emphasize, so jobseekers should devote the most amount of their search time tapping (or rebuilding) their existing networks and developing new contacts.
"Networking is king," says Ballantyne, who has been a professional career coach in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1996 and has worked with clients in a range of roles and in different industries.
With so many people looking for work, it's more important that ever to have a real-time pipeline of information about where the jobs are -- ideally before they are posted, says Ballantyne. "Networking is how you get at that hidden job market (green or otherwise)," he says.
Alumni and professional associations are strong resources, Ballantyne says, and learning how to use social media, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, as business tools is essential. In addition to networking, social media can be used to track developments in industries and at companies targeted in job searches. Checking industry blogs and blogs about target companies are good tactics as well.
"It's worth your time to get out there and volunteer," Ellis says, adding that being passionate about your interests is great, demonstrating it is even better. In the green arena especially, he says, "credibility is very, very important."
"It comes down to the question of 'Do you eat your own cooking?' " says Ellis. "People can say 'I'm a sales person, I can sell anything, of course I can sell solar.' Well, I'm sure they can try, but will anyone listen to them when they talk?"
By volunteering at environmental organizations, jobseekers can point to tangible evidence of their interest, show they are able to apply their skills in a different field, acquire new experience and add new contacts to their professional network.
You may have already had a job with green dimensions without knowing it. Did you help your company save money by increasing operating efficiency in a way that also conserved energy or water, reduced emissions or waste, use fewer resources in production or packaging? If so, your job may have involved environmental aspects that you can draw upon.
Still working but anticipating a job change? Ellis urges people to look for ways to become "environmental entrepreneurs" by doing their jobs and helping their companies do business in a more environmentally responsible way. The strategy helps build experience if a move to a greener job or industry is contemplated, and it adds to the individual's professional value on the job, especially if the initiative helps the company's bottom line.
Getting help can be as easy as going to the library, Ballantyne and Ellis say. Help with research, use of data bases, information on industry trends and Internet access can all be had for free with a library card.
Ballantyne also recommends CareerOneStop, a site sponsored by U.S. Department of Labor, and the bricks-and-mortar One-Stop Career Centers that provide help through public-private partnerships. Chambers of Commerce can also be of assistance; some conduct networking events specifically for job seekers.
Should a jobseeker seek one-on-one professional assistance? That depends on the job seeker. Confidence-building and demystifying the process are among the key needs that outside help -- whether it's from a public service or a private coach -- fulfill. Industry studies say professional assistance can cut job search time significantly. The job seeker's urgency factor, experience and skills in conducting a search, desire and need for customized assistance and financial resources are among the considerations in taking this route.
"You have to do your own assessment," says Ballantyne. "How prepared are you for the job search market? Do you know how to network? Do you know that job boards are not the sole answer? Do you know to use the social media as a business tool in your search? Can you identify your transferable skills, your translatable experience?"
Ballantyne and Ellis stressed the importance of using care and common sense when hiring a recruiter or a career coach. That person should be someone the jobseeker trusts and can work with. A good coach or recruiter will be making a similar assessment of the prospective client.
The demand for individualized help is on the upswing. In response, Bright Green Talent recently began offering one-on-one career coaching sessions in the U.S. and the U.K. The session rates are currently 30 minutes for $57 and 60 minutes for $97, with longer or further sessions also being an option. Pre-interviews as well as session prep packets are given to jobseekers who wish to sign up for the service.
In addition, Ellis says, Bright Green Talent is about three months into a pilot program that is designed as bridge between job hunters seeking a green role, or work at a green firm, and companies with temporary green jobs to fill.
The program builds on the concept of services that pair independent contractors with businesses that have temporary jobs or projects that need to be staffed.
In the Bright Green Talent model, the jobseekers-cum-contractors obtain new or further green experience and the companies get immediate attention for their urgent green projects. Eligible candidates would pay a fee of $200 to cover administration costs for participating in the program, which is expected to celebrate its formal launch in mid-April, Ellis says.
Updates on the firm's projects and advice for jobseekers are available on its Bright Green Blog.
Staying Grounded in Common Sense While Pursuing Green Jobs
With all the hope pinned on an emerging green economy, it's easy to get swept up in the excitement over green jobs. Projections of robust growth based on substantial investments include a proposal advanced by the Apollo Alliance's New Apollo Program, which calls for an investment of $500 billion over 10 years to create 5 million green-collar jobs in renewable energy, energy efficiency, transit and transportation, and research, development and deployment of cutting-edge clean-energy technologies.
In a recent blog, GreenBiz.com Executive Editor Joel Makower noted that job statistics in the broad new sector could become vulnerable to greenwashing even as positions appear to materialize. "We don't really know how to define a green job, let alone measure when one is created or 'retained,' " he wrote.
Some question the overall impact that green jobs will have on the job supply. In a press conference on March 16, a group of academics conducting research on behalf of the Institute for Energy Research raised concerns about the practical benefits of green jobs. Those concerns included questions about whether estimates of net job creation factored in positions that would be lost from existing, fossil fuel-related industries.
In a guest column on GreenBiz.com, Ellis took up the question of a green jobs mirage posed by Makower's piece. Though acknowledging the number of green jobs is relatively few, Ellis noted the demands for them -- and for what they represent -- are growing. As "individuals are forced to reevaluate their professional priorities or seek new careers as they are let go from those they were following, they are coming in droves to the idea of a 'green job,' " he wrote. "Yet, it's not really a 'green job' they want. They're not seeking definitional clarity or a certification that their job is deep (or bright) green. Instead, they're seeking a new path entirely."
Taking up that thread anew in speaking of jobseekers, Ellis says, "Everybody is wondering what a green job is, we need to get past that and get past that quickly. Don't let the green throw you. Business models may have changed, but it is still business."