Green Collar Jobs & Careers: Today’s Challenges, Tomorrow’s Opportunities

At the recently held 2008 Phase II of Renewable Energy in America National Policy Forum, hundreds of renewable energy executives, financial experts and policy makers gathered on Capitol Hill to discuss the state of renewable energy today.

Most felt optimistic about the industry’s future despite the global economic turndown. Over the highly charged and enthusiastic two-day session organized by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), policy recommendations on renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable development, the environment and green jobs dominated the discussion.

On the one hand, many leading industry executives made it clear that the severe global economic challenges and tight credit crunch have slowed — at least temporarily — the pace of what is perhaps the one segment of society that promises to offer the most abundant employment opportunities. But on the other hand, in light of the Obama transition teams’s commitment to Clean Energy, an eight-year extension of the investment tax credit and increasing awareness of the need to end our reliance on fossil fuels, new green collar jobs and careers still hold the promise of tomorrow’s opportunities.

New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman suggested that the change in administrations may signal an immediate and much needed new direction in energy policy. “The next great industry will be Energy Technology (ET). America is ‘exploding’ with innovators and entrepreneurs in renewable energy, but until now we have not had a government that has fostered that innovative spirit. We need “Ecostars” to change minds and hearts. We need to change leaders not just light bulbs!”

Since returning to the private sector in 2004, Retired Army General Wesley Clark has been a tremendous advocate and active leader and investor in renewable energy, as Chairman of the board of Emergya Wind Technologies, a North American wind turbine manufacturing company based in Little Rock. He shared a sense of present challenges and future opportunity. [Note:  to see a video interview with General Wesley Clark.

“The renewable energy sector is ready to burst with opportunity. This business climate is going to require strong policies and the careful nurturing of federal and state government to bring this all to fruition. Credit markets are being incredibly difficult, businesses are making no decisions, hiring is slow; however, underneath the still waters, there is still a lot of action, financing is getting done, people are being interviewed and people are getting hired,” said Clark.

While acknowledging the obvious slowdown in the economy, Roger S. Ballentine, President of Green Strategies Inc., offered that the three fundamentals pushing the green collar marketplace forward have not changed at all. “There is a global commitment to reduce greenhouse gases; There is certain increased demand for global energy; President Obama has made clear that he intends to enact green policies . . . green is still cool!”

Job seekers from every segment of society, anxious to transfer their skills to the renewable energy industry and benefit from the infusion of capital, effort and opportunity in the green tech space, are besieging executives and leaders of renewable energy firms with unsolicited employment inquiries. And according to Michael Eckhart, President of ACORE, there will be room for all of them. “There will be high paying and excellent jobs ranging from engineers to CEO’s and from accountants to marketing and sales executives to top IT professionals and more. The industry will cover the whole spectrum of society.”

Having a slew of applicants with various backgrounds at their disposal is helping some firms to grow their businesses. Peter Brown of Ricardo, plc, a provider of technology and engineering consulting solutions to the world’s automotive, transport and energy industries said, “it’s the companies that chose to invest during tough times that tend to lead the way out of a recession and really prosper as the economy turns up.”

Jeff Broin, CEO of POET says the ethanol industry is growing by leaps and bounds, “for every one billion gallons of ethanol produced, 10,000 – 20,000 new jobs are created. We’re on base to add 125,000 new jobs. There’s a potential to make a real difference soon.”

Of course not all renewable energy companies are able to go full steam ahead right now, and Bruce Pasternack, Venture Partner at CMEA Ventures, said that a more prudent course is — for now — to wait and see.

“The present challenge for green companies while they are trying to grow is that they need to watch cash. When making hiring decisions, they are looking at every position and asking, ‘do we really, really need that person?’ There is some real caution in the industry, but by and large everyone is very optimistic looking forward.”

The role of local, state and federal government in bolstering a green economy and creating green jobs is certainly important. And a good example can be found in Newark, NJ. Aimee Christensen of Christensen Global Strategies explained, “The Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, so challenged the ways the city had previously been led; he understood that green was the way to create jobs, advance economic development, reduce crime, and give people places to play; through a green and sustainable initiative, he has been able to vastly improve the quality of life in Newark.”

The new U.S. administration will face enormous geopolitical and economic challenges. By mandating markets for renewable fuels and renewable electricity, it will encourage organizations large and small to create jobs. Not only will meaningful technologies be created and refined, but meaningful careers will be launched, in America and in all corners of the globe.

Chris Huntington of SkyFuel said, “near-term base of businesses have slowed; deals have not evaporated but have been put on hold. Many firms are in a holding pattern but we are really optimistic [that] the country led by Obama will lead to a new era of green tech…Near term it’s tough for everyone to find jobs, but in the longer term, we are extremely optimistic.”

It’s been said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. Trey Taylor, President of Verdant Power, summed up the sentiments of many green industry executives: “At the core of any renewable energy business are people attracted and dedicated to bringing about change; change in policy and change in the ways that we traditionally conduct business. Despite the present bumpy road, we are confident in ourselves that just around the corner things will turn around, we’ve worked too hard for this to fail; it’s in our human nature to succeed.”

Dawn E. Dzurilla is Founder and President of Gaia Human Capital Consultants, an Executive Search Consulting firm solely dedicated to providing talent acquisition solutions specifically for renewable energy, environmental and corporate sustainability organizations and non-profits. She has twenty years of recruitment experience and approximately ten years of environmental and corporate sustainability experience, including Co-Founding an innovative Socially Responsible Investment Management (SRI) firm, which integrates personal, societal values and environmental concerns with individual investment decisions. Dawn is a resident of Naples, FL and New York City.

This is the sixth article in our series on Human Resource Management in Renewable Energy firms.

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Dawn Dzurilla is Founder & Managing Partner of Gaia Human Capital Consultants a leading Cleantech & Renewable Energy Industry Executive Search Firm. Dawn manages retained client search engagements across a variety of executive and senior-level areas including, CEO, President, CFO, CTO, Director of Engineering, Head of Sales & Business Development, Project Finance, Marketing, Administration. Throughout her executive search career, Dawn has managed engagements and partnered with Private Equity/Venture Capital firms in addition to Boards of Directors and Search Committees seeking world-class executive and senior-professional talent. She has been retained on searches by organizations at various stages of development and growth; from early stage through multinationals. Dawn's executive search experience is very extensive - twenty plus years experience. Prior, Dawn was a Principal at Haskell & Stern Associates in their Financial Institutions Practice. In addition, she has twelve years of experience in environmental & corporate sustainability. Dawn is a frequent public speaker and the occasional author on strategic human capital and leadership issues within the Global Green Economy and Cleantech. She is an outspoken advocate for "green collar" executive and professional careers. Dawn’s professional environmental career began in 1991, serving as Managing Director of Corporate Development for a pioneering Greentech firm. Immediately prior to launching Gaia Human Capital Consultants, Dawn co-founded and served as President of H3 Capital LLC, an innovative Socially and Sustainably Responsible Investment Management firm.

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