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Kay: ‘Green jobs’ aren’t just for engineers

There’s a lot of talk about green jobs, but do you understand what it means?

When I ask the average person what they think a green job is, they say, “It’s something to do with the environment” and “It’s related to energy.”

People who consider themselves involved with green jobs offer a variety of perspectives. Words like “renewable” and “sustainable” pop up a lot. They say such jobs are related to corporate social responsibility, recycling, waste reduction and eco-tourism. They also say green jobs create alternative energy or everything from cars and computers to lamps and clothes in “environmentally sustainable ways.”

But what does that mean and how many jobs are we talking about?

Although no one can say for sure how many green jobs exist today or will be created, it seems safe to say that the future looks bright for green jobs, especially “given the change in direction indicated by (President) Barack Obama and his support for all things green,” says Bronwyn Llewellyn, a co-author of “Green Jobs: A Guide to Eco-Friendly Employment.”

So in the hope of shedding light on the green-job segment, and with so much to say and many ways to look at it, I’ve broken this subject into several columns over the following weeks. Today, I’ll start to talk about what green jobs are and where to find them.

First, green jobs don’t fit neatly into one area of the marketplace. There are companies that specialize in producing green products such as energy-efficient buildings, lights, trash bags, solar panels and cleaning products.

Then there are organizations, like universities, retail operations and non-profits, which have people on staff who deal with green issues. Titles include sustainability manager or chief green officer.

There also are companies and professionals who specialize in green issues, such as an investment professional who establishes funds focusing on renewable and clean energy.

And then there are “regular” jobs that exist within companies that produce green products. By this, I mean managers, janitors and people who work in marketing and sales. Their work per se is not “green,” but they do it at “green” companies.

Some folks involved with green jobs say you don’t have a green job unless it reduces waste and pollution and benefits the environment or does something useful for people.

Others, like John Kaufman, a recruiter with AgentHr, point out that these days, green jobs are primarily engineering and scientist-based positions and that there’s a great need for the following:

1. Electrical engineers who can design power, storage and distribution systems or solar, wind, ocean, biofuel and geothermal energy sources.

2. Chemical engineers who discover new processes to increase efficiency of biofuel generation and develop new materials more efficient at capturing solar energy.

3. Civil engineers to build the factories to produce the energy.

Kaufman says that more construction and manufacturing positions, such as machinists, drafters, laborers and truckers, will be needed in the future, but engineers will be needed to continuously improve processes. And that will lead to a need for software and consulting professionals to design and implement the information systems to manage everything from bookkeeping to inventory.

On the other hand, there are people like Mike Hall, president of Borrego Solar Systems, who says it’s a common misconception that green jobs are only for engineers. And that will be the next part of this green job story: Where else are the green jobs?

To be continued, sustained or renewed next time.

Andrea Kay is the author of “Work’s a Bitch and Then You Make It Work: 6 Steps to Go From Pissed Off to Powerful.” Send questions to her at 2692 Madison Rd., (POUND)133, Cincinnati, OH 45208; www.andreakay.com or www.lifesabitchchangecareers.com. She can be e-mailed at: andrea@andreakay.com.

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