How Future Renewable Energy Professionals Are Breaking into the Industry

Thousands of people from all walks of life and with varied backgrounds and talents are knocking on the doors of green tech companies in search of a renewable energy career. Attractive to savvy financiers, entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, varied specialized professionals and those right out of school, breaking into the industry holds wonderful promise.

But sometimes landing those dream renewable energy jobs are met with difficulties.

The demand for experienced and top-talent exists in every industry today and renewable energy firms are recognizing that they compete on a global basis with various industries depending on their talent acquisition needs. The firms themselves are finding that demand for qualified candidates often heavily outweigh supply.

Current renewable energy professionals often didn’t begin their careers in the industry. Many have come from other industries, professions and even locations. Like the great migration out West or the pull of the big city, many of today’s successful renewable energy leaders were grounded in something entirely different.

What aspiring renewable energy professionals want to know is “how do I get in?”

Younger generations have benefited from a wide variety of course curriculum in sustainability and renewable energy offered in an increasing number of colleges and universities. Stanford University, for example, has established relationships with renewable energy firms in its MBA and Engineering Career Development Programs, spearheaded respectively by Stephanie Briggs and Bev Principle. Stanfords’s two-year MBA program has attracted firms like BP, Chevron, Solazyme and Clipper Wind to conduct campus recruitment. But Briggs feels it’s still not enough. “Stanford does have renewable organizations that have established college recruitment relations, but not overwhelmingly so. Renewable Energy firms simply don’t have the resources and personnel to recruit here.”

Another renewable energy firm, Juice Energy, has begun holding annual job fairs with Duke University’s and Yale University’s environmental colleges.

Several renewable energy institutes have joined forces with colleges & universities around the country to provide hands-on training for practitioners. The Alternative Energy Institute (AEI) at West Texas State University, offers courses in wind energy to approximately 60 – 70 participants each semester. David Carr, AEI’s Assistant Director says, “we are the first stepping stone for so many that want to get involved in the business.”

Jane Weissman, Executive Director of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) has been working for several years to resolve the clear need for hands-on, quality and practical local training. “The industry wants to raise the bar; they want not only quality workmanship but also safe workmanship. We want to make sure that renewable energy is part of the pool of energy alternatives. We need quality products and a positive installation experience for continued customer acceptance.”

Don Albinger, VP, Renewable Energy Solutions at Johnson Controls sees the industry’s need for energy engineers as a downright call to action. “There is a void in the education component of renewable energy,” he says. The $34-billion corporation that installs energy-efficiency solutions in corporations nationwide needs to add more than 35 jobs a day this year to meet its aggressive renewable energy expansion goals. To make up for this void, the company has created an in-house training program for aspiring renewable energy professionals.”

Corporate training programs are also available at a few larger renewable energy organizations. The programs offer an array of training programs for different levels and interests. GE Energy has six different programs to select from, ranging from internships for graduating students who have just earned MBAs up through courses for the experienced professional who might be considering a job in the renewable (wind) energy business. Like many firms, GE Energy also caters to military veterans seeking a career in the private sector.

Steve Stengle, Florida Power and Light (FPL) Energy spokesman says, “we are doing things to meet the staffing challenge in the wind industry. When FPL goes out to look for technicians, we look for someone who has mechanical and electrical experience and if they have that basic understanding, we’ll help them through our process with programs we can teach them in the wind business.”

FPL has also become increasingly involved with technical and junior colleges. One of the most successful relationships is with Texas State Technical College (TSTC), based in Sweetwater, TX. FPL has worked on developing a rigorous curriculum so that when a student finishes the program; he or she has all the important skills and is ready to work. Founder of the program and Chair fr the Energy Division, Bill Guideria says that several prominent wind energy firms recruit TSTC graduates including: FLP, Gamesa, Mitsubishi, GE Energy, Shell Wind, Run Energy, Outland Wind and Horizon Wind Energy. Upon completion of the two-year program, graduates enter the work force having earned an Associates of Applied Science Degree in Wind Energy and Turbine Technology.

TSTC just approved an “entry-level certificate program” that will comprise of 24 semester hours and would provide enough of training for wind energy technicians “to at least get them through the front door of a wind energy firm,” says Guideria. His next charge is to develop a solar energy program similar to TSTC’s existing wind program. TSTC’s sister college in Wako, TX offers an Associates of Applied Science in fuel cell technology.

At the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) Solar 2008 national solar energy conference in San Diego, California, the renewable energy industry’s first comprehensive business training program and technical conference is being offered through an innovative partnership between ASES and Conergy. Anthony Fotopoulos, Managing Director at Conergy Americas says the program aims to, “provide solar business owners the tools and training they need to be sustainable and profitable, train and retain employees, and provide high quality service to their customers.”

Its also important to keep in mind that those with basic business knowledge are also very much in demand at some emerging and proven renewable energy firms. Potential job prospects with considerable expertise in the areas of accounting, administration, customer service, finance, IT, legal, marketing, telecommunications and more, will find that their skill-set or specific expertise would fit well in a renewable firm.

Dawn E. Dzurilla is Founder and President of Gaia Human Capital Consultants, an Executive Search Consulting firm solely dedicated to providing recruitment solutions specifically for renewable energy, environmental and corporate sustainability organizations and non-profits clients. She has twenty years of recruitment experience and approximately ten years of environmental & 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. She is a resident of Naples, FL and New York City. Dawn Dzurilla can be reached at dawnd@gaiahumancapital.com.

This is the third 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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