Preparing College Grads for Jobs in Clean Energy

More than 2.5 million Americans work in clean energy; strong federal and state clean energy policies could create even more jobs for millennials and others. What do college students and millennials need to know in order to land a job in the rapidly expanding clean energy economy?

A new, first-of-its-kind guidebook recently unveiled by the national nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2, www.e2.org) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC, www.nrdc.org) offers practical, how-to advice for young people seeking careers in clean energy.

“Clean Power Players” — available for download in PDF format at www.e2.org and at E2’s website — provides job seekers with an overview of clean energy industries like wind, solar and energy efficiency. The guidebook highlights the value of networking, encourages political engagement and profiles 10 young clean energy business leaders — the namesake “Clean Power Players” — who hail from states including Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“I’m excited to be working in the clean energy industry because of the innovative technology and the clear benefits that it is having and will continue to have on peoples’ lives,” says Cory Connolly, 27, a project manager at Detroit-based Levin Energy Partners. “Whether it’s learning about new technologies or seeing disruptive business models take hold around clean energy, it’s a fascinating field to work in.

“I met a lot of my peers in the clean energy industry working on climate change in previous roles. For many of us, what makes working on clean energy satisfying is that we are making real projects happen that benefit people and the planet,” Connolly adds.

The guidebook was initially released at a panel at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. It arrived as colleges and universities prepared to graduate the Class of 2016. The guidebook also arrives as workers in the fossil fuel sector suffer through recent layoffs in industries like coal mining. These layoffs underscore the urgent national need to support and re-train laid-off fossil fuel industry workers to help build out America’s clean energy infrastructure.

New studies based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) data illustrate just how compelling a career choice clean energy can be. In late March, E2 released a pair of clean energy jobs reports: “Clean Jobs America,” which counted more than 2.5 million clean energy jobs nationwide, and “Clean Jobs Midwest,” which tallied 569,000 clean energy jobs in the 12-state Midwestern region and predicted a 4.4 percent growth rate over the next year. Those reports are also available for download from E2’s website.

“We need to set the stage for the next generation of American workers to succeed,” says Gail Parson, E2’s Midwest advocate and a contributor to the report. “Stronger policies at both the state and federal levels can help make that happen.”

State energy efficiency and renewable standards, federal tax incentives and other policies have helped drive exponential growth in clean energy jobs in recent years, Parson says. To keep these jobs growing, lawmakers should continue to support the policies that are driving the clean energy sector — ranging from the recent international climate agreement reached in Paris, to the federal Clean Power Plan, to state and regional clean energy standards.

“We can and must solve climate change — it’s the most urgent challenge of our time,” Connolly observes. “To build a future with abundant clean, renewable energy, it’s going to take effort and coordination from policymakers, business leaders, universities and philanthropists. And millennials like the Clean Power Players and many more working across various fields are going to be crucial.”

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

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