By Carol Tice
Green jobs are red hot. The billions in federal stimulus funding are translating into growing job opportunities in fields such as solar power, wind power, advanced energy storage, and more energy-efficient electric power. A recent study from the Pew Charitable Trusts found clean-energy jobs are growing at twice the nation's overall job-growth rate. But if you're interested in one of these fields, where do you start?
The answer will depend on the type of green job you want, says Carol McClelland, author of Green Careers for Dummies. McClelland provides an interesting "green economy map" on her Web site, Green Career Central, that showcases the spectrum of industries that offer environmentally-focused jobs, including construction, power, resource management, and education.
Here's a look at a range of degrees and certifications that can get you into some of the hottest green jobs:
Associate’s degree in Applied Science. This two-year general science degree lays the groundwork for many green careers. It is the core degree offered by the nation's first "green" technical college, EcoTech Institute in Denver, which opened in July. Within applied science, the college offers specialties in fields including electrical engineering, energy efficiency, renewable energy, environmental technology, solar energy, and wind energy.
"Our training is geared so that no matter where the industry goes in the future – if thermal energy becomes hot, or a new solar-panel design comes – our graduates will have an underlying understanding of energy theory and the skills they need," says academic dean Glenn Wilson.
The news site Renewable Energy World lists schools that offer specialized A.S. degree programs geared for green careers. Jobs the applied science degree can prepare you for include environmental engineering technician ($47,770), electrical engineering technician ($50,650), solar energy system installer ($40,220), and wind turbine technician ($42,730).
Certified Water Treatment Plant Operator. States certify water treatment plant operators, so requirements vary. Some states offer multiple levels of certification. Bottom-level operator certifications may require just a few months of water-plant experience and a few months of college coursework, while top-level certifications can require a four-year degree and four years of job experience. Plant operators can play a critical role in water conservation and in preserving water quality in their region. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects big demand for this position due to an expected wave of baby-boomer retirements by longtime operators in coming years. (Water treatment plant operator: $39,600)
Master Certificate in Renewable Energy. While you can get a quick certificate in either solar-panel or wind-turbine installation, consider getting this more comprehensive certificate, which can give you training in installing solar, wind, and thermal systems installation, as well as in performing home energy-efficiency retrofits. The certification training generally takes under a month. McClelland recommends finding a long-established training company for this certificate course, such as Boots On the Roof.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-Accredited Professional (LEED-AP). Administered by the Green Building Certification Institute, LEED-AP certification qualifies construction-industry professionals to certify that buildings conform to LEED standards. The green-recruiting company Hinton Human Capital notes on its blog, "If you are considering a career move into building construction, this is the certification that will set you apart." LEED certification can help you land jobs as a civil engineer ($64,800), construction estimator ($51,100), and more.
Before pursuing any green training, green author McClelland recommends doing a little job research. Many new institutions are springing up to fill the need for green-job training, and there are as yet few national standards for green-education programs. Institutions may offer a certificate that's not widely recognized, such as certified professional environmental auditor or certified energy manager.
McClelland recommends calling local green employers in your chosen field and asking what certificates or degrees they prefer and what learning institutions they recommend, to help you choose a program that's sure to position you for the job you want. Consider tuition costs and ask for referrals to successfully employed graduates before committing to a program.
Business writer Carol Tice is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times and other major publications. Contact her at caroltice.com.
Source: All salary data is from PayScale.com. The salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time workers with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.