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Climate Corps is a testing ground for future problem-solvers

Climate Corps is training millennials for the jobs of the future.

There’s increasing evidence that sustainability jobs are becoming a large and growing portion of the U.S. workforce across multiple sectors. A 2016 GreenBiz survey (PDF) stated that 75 percent of the participating firms had dedicated sustainability budgets and 40 percent had grown these over the previous two years. 

As companies continue to imbed sustainability throughout their organizations, job opportunities are likely to grow — a trend identified by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in a report released earlier this year. It states that sustainability jobs already count at 4 million and growing. Provocatively titled "Now Hiring: The Growth of America’s Clean Energy and Sustainability Jobs (PDF)," the report looks at the EDF’s successful fellowship program, Climate Corps, against the backdrop of the continued growth of the clean energy sector in the U.S.

Strong and steadily growing

Described as "a summer fellowship program that embeds trained, custom-matched graduate students inside leading organizations to accelerate clean energy projects and strategy," the Climate Corps has recruited and placed more than 700 of its fellows in over 400 organizations since 2008.

In 2017 alone, more than 1,000 graduate students applied for just over 100 spots. In 2016, EDF placed 125 fellows, pursuing a range of graduate degrees with around 30 percent pursuing an MBA or dual degrees, within nearly 100 organizations. And in 2014 they placed a fellow in China for the first time. 

Tangible outcomes

From seven fellows in its inaugural year, the Climate Corps quickly has grown in size and prestige, allowing graduate students the opportunity to test their skills in a practical setting and in projects that range from clean energy research and project management to helping companies implement their climate action strategy. 

According to the New Hiring report — well-crafted as a PowerPoint for a savvy business community — almost 70 percent of EDF Climate Corps alumni work in sustainability as of 2016. 

Most important, for the scores of MBA students looking for internships this summer, the Climate Corps Fellowship offers tangibility: quantifiable outcomes; project management skills; and job opportunities — and a step in the door into a sector that’s strategically poised to grow. Solar employment opportunities alone are growing 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.

As Liz Delaney, program director of EDF Climate Corps, put it, "As the economy becomes more sustainable and energy efficient, a new market for clean energy and sustainability jobs is created. This market is large, growing and intrinsically local. Even better, these jobs span across economic sectors, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and other green goods and services, like local and state government, transportation and corporations."

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Besides, Climate Corps also represents a critical opportunity to test everything you learn in graduate school — from systems thinking, analytical skills and business acumen to razor-sharp communication and interpersonal skills — on projects and solutions that can be actively measured and quantified.

Climate Corps can lead to jobs that pay above average wages. As the report states,

These aren’t just any jobs; they are well-paying, local opportunities that bolster our domestic economy. Most renewable and energy efficiency jobs can be found in small businesses, requiring on-site installation, maintenance and construction, making them local by nature. And, many pay higher than average. For example, energy efficiency jobs pay almost $5,000 above the national median, providing rewarding employment options to all Americans — even those without college or advanced degrees.

Sustainability jobs are available in every state; energy efficiency alone provides 2.2 million jobs, stated the report. In many cases, they are vastly outpacing the rest of the U.S. economy in growth and job creation and generating more jobs per dollar invested. The EDF  estimates that sustainability collectively represents up to 4.5 million jobs in the U.S., increasing from 3.4 million in 2011.

Ultimately, said Kate Hanley, project manager at EDF Climate Corps, "The report shows what we’ve known for a long time that there is a large and growing demand for sustainability jobs across multiple sectors […] the diversity of types of jobs, sectors and geographies demonstrated in the report mirrors our alumni network. 

"This summer will be the 10th year of the EDF Climate Corps fellowship and we received a record-breaking [more than] 1,000 applicants, further proof that there continues to be demand for sustainability job training and demand for career paths where young professionals can use their business skills and have an impact."

With many Climate Corps Fellows taking roles in clean tech, startups and consulting, it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing them being placed in more traditional business roles. After all, mainstreaming sustainability must begin well before recruitment. With high potential talent —  especially millennials —  poised to take leadership positions in the next decade, the Climate Corps program continues to offer a successful model for connecting the workforce of the future with the challenges of the present to future-proof our organizations for the next century.

As for the scores of students who are looking to pursue careers that blend purpose, meaning and impact, applying for a Climate Corps Fellow is sure to get you many steps closer to making that a reality.

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