Prospects for green jobs - from today's specialized, niche occupations to elements of environmental sustainability that likely will become part of existing jobs to emerging occupations expected to develop in the future - look especially promising for those with the educational or technical background employers are seeking.
If your job isn't "green" now, it may be soon. Like ivy spreading up walls and around trees, green jobs - those involving at least some element of environmental sustainability - are coming.
Employers have immediate openings in specific niche occupations related to environmental sustainability, according to Kyle Uphoff, regional analysis and outreach manager for the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. For example, think engineering for retrofitting homes or businesses for energy efficiency, he says.
The greater growth potential, however, lies in current occupations - like marketing and management - that in the coming years will begin taking on some new green responsibilities.
"Where we're going to see the greatest greening of the labor market is in all those occupations that have existed for decades but now have some kind of green component that didn't exist before," Uphoff said. "We get a lot of input from employers that they're not necessarily creating a new kind of occupation but existing occupations with new skill requirements."
Green occupations make up about 2 percent of the state's total workforce today, or only about 500 jobs, according to a continuing labor market survey DEED is conducting. That sounds small, Uphoff said, but the introduction of new technologies, in this case green ones, into an economy often results in a period of fast, intense job growth, which is what the survey anticipates we're likely to see in the future.
That 2 percent, by the way, is close to the share of green jobs in other states, Uphoff said. Definitions differ among states, though the Minnesota study identifies green jobs as those involving energy or natural resource conservation, renewable energy development, pollution cleanup or pollution reduction. The most common economic sectors for those jobs are education and regulation; sustainable agriculture and resource conservation; environmental cleanup; energy efficiency; renewable energy and alternative fuels.
An estimated 26 percent of green vacancies in Minnesota were in occupations involving science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the survey found. Specific job titles range from conservation scientists to transportation, storage and distribution managers to heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers. A variety of engineering and engineering technician vacancies also exist.
New and emerging green careers, according to the survey, include energy engineer, weatherization/retrofit installer and technician, and sustainability coordinator.
Green vacancies likely require a higher education level than their non-green counterparts, the survey found. Specifically, bachelor's degrees in engineering, business, ecology or hydrology and life sciences such as geochemistry were among educational requirements employers cited most frequently.
"A high school diploma just doesn't prepare people for these jobs," said Mark Fritsch, a former Xcel Energy official who now runs Current Compass Inc., an energy consulting services firm. "The companies out there are looking for people who have a technical background, two- and four-year degrees in technical areas or four years of college."
Fritsch said he sees green job opportunities in renewable energy - solar, wind and energy - and green building and energy efficiency.
Medium- and large-sized companies are creating positions for energy managers and energy engineers to help them operate more efficiently, said Cindy McComas, director of the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP). Based at the University of Minnesota, the program helps business prevent pollution, reduce energy use and use resources efficiently.
Recycled market development - or development of products made from recycled materials, such as patio furniture or replacement windows - is another field that likely will expand as recycling rates rise, McComas said.