Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 8/30/2009 5:51:56 PM ET 2009-08-30T21:51:56

There’s a lot of talk about so-called “green” jobs lately, and many of you are wondering how you can get a piece of the action, especially if you’re out of work.

Well, you’re going to have to think beyond just wanting a green job because these positions are so varied and are in so many industries. Saying you want green employment is almost like saying you want employment. And even though federal dollars earmarked for sustainable industries are starting to trickle in to projects and job-training programs across the country, that doesn’t mean green jobs are plentiful.

“Thinking just ‘green job’ limits you too much,” warned Paul Pierpoint, vice president for community education and chair of the “Green Team” at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pa., who said the expected green jobs explosion has yet to materialize.

“Almost every job has a green component. Even bartenders have to learn how to recycle,” he explained. “But to look for a job that exists because it’s green is not good career planning if you want a job right now.”

The key is figuring out where the opportunities are and what type of job is right for you.

Green jobs run the gamut, everything from solar installers to pollution auditors. The question you need to ask yourself is whether it’s something you’d enjoy and whether your skills are transferable — even if you might require some training — because it will make the transition smoother.

Laci Gilmore, a former diesel mechanic for Ford in Denver, was interested in a job in wind energy but wasn’t sure she’d be capable of working on large wind turbines. Turns out, her mechanical skills were just right for the job. She’s now an operation and maintenance technician for Suzlon, a large wind turbine company.

“I did a lot of this work — reading schematics, troubleshooting — at Ford,” she said, which made for an easy transition into the industry. She took some classes and relocated to Arlington, Ore., but 99 percent of her training has been on the job.

Relocating for a job
Many employment experts advised that people be willing to move if they want to work for companies that are clearly focused on the environment.

The West Coast and parts of the Northeast, including the Boston area, are key areas where green companies are sprouting up, thanks to venture capital money, said Chuck Pappalardo, managing director for recruiting firm Trilogy Search. Green-manufacturing jobs can be found in cities such as Cleveland and Indianapolis.

“I had a conversation recently with a women at the vice president level who didn’t want to move. But people have to be opportunistic when looking for these jobs, and that’s always been the case,” he added.

Once you figure out where the jobs are and in which industries, you can start figuring out if a job is a good fit for you.

“You have to self-educate,” advised Gayle Oliver-Plath, founder of green jobs Web site and community CareerEco.com. She suggested checking out cleantech.com and greenbiz.com to see what’s out there, and reading about what different jobs and different industries are like.

“People don’t like to hear that it takes a lot of work to go about getting a job, and a green job is the same,” she said. “Start the research process, take a look at your skill sets and then say, ‘How can I take what I’m good at and get some new training, or volunteer, or get nonprofit experience, and turn things around and move into a new job?’”

Landing a green job
Here are some of your questions:

I am 53 years old and am the father of three teenage girls. I am also unemployed and going broke by the day. I will likely lose my house by year's end. I have a master's degree level of education and have well over twenty years professional experience in my field, (most recently a) senior level project manager for an architectural-engineering (firm). But, jobs are few and far between at the moment. I would like to have an opportunity to receive job training in the renewable energy industry. I am willing to make what sacrifices are necessary to secure a better future for my family.
— Mark Romulus, Yorktown, Va.

Unfortunately, there are not as many federal grants out there for professional workers because most of the funds are directed toward skilled and semiskilled employees, said Carlos Martin, who advises the training and development arm of the National Association of Home Builders. “Because he’s at a higher level, it will be harder to find something for free.”

However, there are numerous programs for engineers, especially those with an architectural background. To get help paying for such training, Martin suggested Romulus contact his professional organization to see if there are training discounts for people in his industry.

Some companies, he added, may be willing to train him because he has the skills that firms looking to fill green positions need.

Raquel Pinderhughes, urban studies professor at San Francisco State University, suggested he contact Green For All to see if there are any green job-training projects in his geographic area. “His work in arch-engineering should be transferable,” she added.

Again, Romulus may have to consider relocating, maintained Trilogy’s Pappalardo, because the mid-Atlantic isn’t quite a hotbed of green activity.

Pappalardo suggested that Romulus find a recruiter in his area or find out where venture capital firms are investing their dollars and connect with those people. “With his background in architecture, I’m sure people are dying to know where he is,” he added.

Due to the economic downturn, I'm having to look in new areas for career ideas. One such idea has been the "green" sector, thus my interest in your article, " Green industries offer job growth opportunities ." I would like to see if you had any more information on some of the major green companies in the San Bernardino/Riverside, Calif., area (80 miles east of Los Angeles).
— James Potts, San Bernardino, Calif.

Almost all the major job boards now have green job sections or allow you to search for green jobs and specific locations.

If you know you want to work in a specific industry — such as water, for example — find the local branch of the American Water Association, said Oliver-Plath. Such groups will be able to connect you with firms in your area and information about job opportunities.

There may also be regional green groups that can help you figure out what’s available in your town. She pointed to Southeast Green and the Green Chamber of the South as examples in her region. “In every part of the country, you have more and more of these popping up.”

Attending conferences or green networking events in your area can be a great way to learn about the industry, gain contacts and find out where the jobs are, she added.

Don’t forget to check out your state department of labor or county, city or town employment offices and community colleges in your area.

Eve Tahmincioglu writes the weekly "Your Career" column for msnbc.com and chronicles workplace issues in her blog, CareerDiva.net.

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