Jobs: How to Succeed in a Green Economy

By Nastasha Alli / Claudio Munoz

At the end of the 19th century, America was a vast land, filled with resources but not enough people. It was already an important country, but not yet the front-runner of economic development. Then, mass production was born and a second industrial revolution started. Highways were built, markets were connected, homes were constructed and the American dream was born. Canada – with the benefit of watching and learning from its neighbour's successes and mistakes – followed and some areas became hubs of industrialization of the developed world. The sky was the limit.
A century later, things are a little different.

A new economy is rising and Canada, and particularly Ontario, is part of this global trend. According to ECO Canada, 71% of environmental organizations are expecting growth over the next two years, 75% in the case of the province.
The creation of green jobs is likely to speed up in the years ahead as well. A report of the United Nations Environment Programme, titled Green Jobs: Towards decent work in a sustainable, low-carbon world [PDF], proposed that a "global transition to a low-carbon and sustainable economy can create large numbers of green jobs across many sectors of the economy".
The same report established that the transition would involve business, workers, communities, and governments. But not all is good news. Even though some jobs would be gained, others would be lost – some jobs that were typical of the industrialization era, like automakers, will be transformed.
The truth is – nobody wants to be left behind.

Jobs in Ontario

"Ontario has various initiatives to promote the green economy," says Neil Trotter, a senior advisor at the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. "The Ministry of Energy and Environment has something called the Green Energy Act that is trying to promote wind, solar and renewable energy".

Since April 2010, 184 new contracts for green energy projects have been announced, in addition to 510 already underway. Ontario's Green Energy Act says it aims to create 50,000 jobs.

But there is more. "The government has some initiatives beyond high potential areas in the province (for environmental jobs)," adds Trotter. "On top of that, there's a worldwide demand for these areas," he says, that promote employment in the green sector. The Water Opportunities Act, for example, has seen Ontario companies employ 22,000 people to work locally on water purification technology.

Depending on the particular environmental sector you're interested in, you might be required to complete formal training – either through a recognized college or university, or by having credentials from your home country assessed by the Ontario government, if you have prior experience working in the 'green' field. This means that you'll have to invest time, money, and other resources in studying to become an environmental professional. But think of it this way; the investment you put into your training should pay off in the near future.
After accreditation, for instance, a certified geologist (a person who studies the earth and soil) can earn up to $85,000 a year, according to a report by Ontario Job Futures. Other occupations in the environmental sector can earn you a pretty decent paycheque as well; environmental health officers (who monitor carbon emissions) and biologists (who study organisms and natural resources) have an annual average salary of $65,000. To compare, that's about $2,000 more yearly than high school teachers, $3,000 more than registered nurses, $20,000 more than auto mechanics, and up to $30,000 more than restaurant managers. ECO Canada's Environmental Careers Compensation Report 2008 reported that the average salary for an environmental worker is $63,000.

The demand for environmental jobs is also spread out across Ontario. Although many scientific research institutes are located in Toronto and Ottawa, more than half of green sector jobs are location-based. Work can be found in Canada's largest solar power farm, for example, near Napanee in Southeastern Ontario. Over 100 jobs are needed for proposed wind turbines in Sault Ste. Marie, and water quality projects along Lake Huron require supervision by conservation authorities.

What makes you special?

Besides the expansion of the industry, a number of professionals are reaching retirement age – the baby boomers – increasing pressure over the sector to recruit new specialized workers.

So how could you resume your environment career or start one? The usual barriers that most newcomers face to find jobs in their field, apply to the environment sector as well. According to ECO Canada, 23% of environmental organizations employ recent immigrants. Language difficulties, lack of Canadian experience and so on are the usual barriers, and they might affect your chances of getting a green job quickly – even though the sector is hiring at faster rates.

There are some professions in high demand, among them environmental engineers, technician and technologists, remediation specialists, air quality technicians and technologists; and hydrologists. Previous education and experience in the sector are highly valued by Canadian employers. But other skills are also in demand, among them project management, planning and organizing work and projects, written communication, verbal communication, leadership, critical thinking, computer proficiency, public relations, creativity, and research and analytical skills.

Such an extensive group of skills makes the sector very competitive and constant preparation seems the norm. Most professionals working in the environmental sector (71%) have taken at least one job-related course in the past year. You’d better get busy.

Even though the last economic crisis proved that a green job is not necessarily "crisis proof", it also reaffirmed the good prospects for these professionals. According to Eco Canada, turnover for professionals in the sector remains high, over the average.

If you are planning on changing careers, this is a sector you absolutely need to explore.