Green Jobs: Finding Your Way into a Sustainable Career

By   |     |  Clean Power Guide

Thinking about a clean energy job? You have landed in the right decade. As New York implements the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a 2022 NYSERDA jobs study projected a whopping 189,000 net increase in clean energy jobs by 2030.

Expanding Fields

First up are existing skills that are needed in dramatically increasing numbers. Electricians will be needed to upgrade wiring and circuitry as all those buildings are electrified—and to keep EV chargers in good working order. Automotive News reviewed national data in October 2023 and concluded that over 4,000—or six percent of public charging stations are out of service at a given time. Altogether, the study projects a need for 142,000 more electricians to complete the national electrification push.

Demand is also growing for installers of insulation and efficient appliances, not only for homes but for commercial and institutional customers with large facilities. Solar panel installation is no longer an emerging field but an expanding and diversifying one. US News and World Report’s Best Jobs site rates it number 16 in the Best Jobs Without a College Degree category, although average compensation hovers around $23 an hour.

Emerging Fields

Heat pump installation and service, both air-source and ground-source (geothermal), are growth opportunities. Old-fashioned oil and propane dealers are keeping themselves current by adding especially air source heat pump service and installation. Geothermal drilling, system design, installation, and maintenance is a fast-growing field in New York, with online and in-person training from the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association designed for people with some mechanical, plumbing, or construction skill.

Wind power is now the largest source of renewable energy in the United States. Jobs are growing in manufacture of components, design and construction, and operations. For offshore wind, there is even a need for crews for more than 25 types of vessels that are used in construction and operations.  

Transforming Fields

Every field of work that connects with the built environment, or energy, or transportation, is evolving with the realities of state policy, innovation, and increasing market interest: architecture and construction, engineering, building code enforcement. Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration companies have a major need to re-skill to install heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, washers and dryers, and to deal with new, climate-safer refrigeration equipment.

In the world of hydropower, a profound shift has occurred with recognition of the environmental destructiveness of dams on fish habitat and their greenhouse gas emissions from decaying plants underwater. In some parts of the world, there is a growth in lower-impact approaches to micro-hydro that doesn’t require dams and may use prefabricated small systems.

Auto repair is changing in the electrifying world, but it’s certainly not going away. Automakers with commitments to EV have begun to run training programs for licensed auto mechanics on electric drive trains, battery packs, and other EV elements. For example, Tesla has established EV mechanic training programs as add-ons for six existing automotive tech programs nationwide, including Suffolk Community College on Long Island.

Design and production of low-carbon building materials is a fast-growing arena of innovation that has lots of room for small businesses. Timber frames, hempcrete, and low carbon concrete are examples of emerging opportunities.

As all these fields grow, they will all need talent in management, marketing and sales, communications, finance, law, information technology, and all the other core functions that make a business work. There is truly room for everyone.

Finding Your Way In

Cal Trumann, a green jobs specialist for New Yorkers for Clean Power, has worked in various sectors across the green energy economy. Trumann’s been a solar installer, cool roof technician, field naturalist, and more, and Trumann has seen the growth of the green energy workforce. “A decade ago, a lot of the work was seasonal from the spring to the fall, and you might be re-hired into a completely different role,” Trumann says. “There is more stability now, especially working with technology like solar and heat pumps, but it’s still important to be adaptable. The technology is constantly evolving. Faking it does not cut it in these industries. Be realistic and ask questions, or you could cause serious and potentially dangerous issues. Now, with the new incentive money available, all the solar and heat pump shops are hiring like crazy to keep up with demand, but there isn’t a line out the door of potential new hires the way there is in regular construction. You have some leverage to shop around for an employer. Company practices vary a lot and not every ‘green’ job is a good job (at least not yet), so make sure you do your research.”

New York is investing heavily, and working seriously, to prepare the industries that are building clean energy and transportation infrastructure.   In the core industries such as renewable energy, green building and sustainable transportation, there is generous funding for learning and experience.

If you are a student in any New York college or university, you can apply for a paid Clean Energy Internship and earn up to $17 per hour for up to 480 hours. Nonprofits as well as energy businesses can be approved workplaces.

If you are starting a new job, your employer may well be eligible for on the job training funds for an initial period.

If you are switching careers and want to access training in advance of a job search, numerous programs are out there with funding from New York, the federal government, and industry.

If you are part of a “priority population” under the climate law—a person of color, a veteran, or a single parent, for example—you are eligible for NYSERDA’s Climate Justice Fellows program. This is a full year’s subsidized (entry level) salary for learning and professional development at any approved workplace that will cost-share by providing full health insurance.

This review is far from exhaustive. Follow your intuition—and the links on the Clean Power Guide Resources page at Sustainhv..

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