By CAROLINE HEILBRUN
Leaders in Energy held its 5th Annual Green Jobs Forum on “Growing a Clean Regional Economy” on August 16, 2018 at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The event featured two moderated panels for guests and exhibitors. The first panel, “What’s Going on in the DMV on Green Jobs?” featured four panelists: Todd Beazer, Dr. Taresa Lawrence, Ashante Abubakar, and Natalie Monkou, and was moderated by Janine Finnell.
Mobilizing a “Green Army”
Janine Finnell, Executive Director of Leaders in Energy, kicked off the Forum by welcoming the audience of over 100 attendees. Her remarks highlighted the progress made in the green jobs sector and the need to mobilize a “green army” to advance clean energy and sustainable solutions. In their report Now Hiring: The Growth of America’s Clean Energy & Sustainability Jobs, the Environmental Defense Fund and Meister Consultants Group estimate that sustainability collectively represents between 4-4.5 million jobs in the U.S. According to the International Labour Organization’s World Employment and Social Outlook 2018: Greening with Jobs, 6 million new jobs will be created by 2030 by transitioning from a linear economic model of extracting, making, using, and disposing to a ‘circular economy’ with activities like recycling, repairing, sharing, leasing, and remanufacturing.
Leaders in Energy has continued to expand its Green Jobs Forum over the past several years to include exhibitors from companies that are hiring in addition to providing green career workshops to assist its community of clean energy and sustainability professionals.
Tim Masters, Environmental Planner at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), made welcoming remarks and highlighted some of his work involving the recent greenhouse gas inventory remarks and progress being made in the region on renewable energy. He also shared his story about how he created his own green position before the sector became popular—he worked as a carbon tracker and waste manager for a local grocer.
During the first panel, an audience member stumped the crowd with a thought-provoking question:
“What exactly is a green job?”
According to the formal definition by the United Nations Environmental Program, a green job involves “work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development (R&D), administrative, and service activities that contribute(s) substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality.”
However, speakers from the first panel delved into green job benefits that extend beyond saving the environment. Green jobs can catapult our region’s workforce into well-paying positions and expand the local economy by attracting environmentally conscious businesses to a trained and eager workforce. Dr. Taresa Lawrence of D.C.’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) referenced Mayor Bowser’s 2017 Economic Strategy for the District, in which green jobs play a major role: “Provision of energy that is clean, affordable, and equitable…will lead to economic prosperity for all Washingtonians.”
D.C. and its suburbs are making good on that promise of economic prosperity. In 2016 alone, the green jobs sector in the region grew 34% to 810,000 positions. Indeed.com, a popular job search engine, ranksD.C.’s green job offerings (as a share of all job offerings) 6thin the nation.
How are we doing it? Panelist Todd Beazer of the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES) favors a workforce development approach. DOES has partnered with Lawrence’s DOEE to establish training programs, offer sustainability-related certifications and apprenticeships, and match job seekers with employers for lucrative full-time positions.
Panelist Ashante Abubakar of WorkSource Montgomery, a non-profit focused on talent development, described a similar approach in Maryland. WorkSource Montgomery runs three accessible job centers that seek to guide clients through job searches and ensure they have necessary qualifications.
“Communities Full of Talent”
Natalie Monkou of Arlington Economic Development is taking a ‘top-down’ approach instead. She helped establish a million-dollar fund called the Gazelle Grant to bring cleantech companies to Virginia, which includes performance-based grants ranging from $10,000 to $150,000. Businesses want to locate themselves in “communities full of talent,” like Arlington, but are unable to do so if tax barriers exist. Monkou is working to remove those barriers, and as a result, large corporations such as Oracle are offering jobs like ‘utility software platform programmer’ to Arlingtonians.
The District of Columbia and its surrounding metropolitan areas are a fast-growing hub for the environmental sector. With these forward-thinking programs in place, green job seekers based near D.C. can be confident about finding stable and lucrative employment.
Green Jobs Forum Exhibitors
In terms of employment opportunities, the Forum featured exhibitors who were seeking to employ green jobs seekers. Other exhibitors included those providing technical certifications and career assistance. Participating exhibitors included leading green companies and associations in the region such as C2 Management, CleanChoice Energy, Energy Sherlock, Grid Alternatives MidAtlantic, and The Solar Energy Industries Association. The Association of Energy Engineers offers the well-known Certified Energy Manager training course and certification and 15 other certifications. There will be exhibitors including career assistance organizations such as Career Confidence and 40Plus of Greater Washington. Healthy Buildings also participated as a sponsor.
Three workshops were provided including the popular “Green Career 1.0 Workshop: What is Your Green Career Plan?”,”Fear is Your Copilot: Networking in Washington DC,: and
the new “Green Career 2.0 Workshop: What is the Best Fit for Your Green Career Path?”
Green Job Gurus: Employed LE Members Share their Success Stories
After a brief refreshment break, Leaders in Energy’s 5th Annual Green Jobs Forum kicked off the second panel of the evening, moderated by John Gaffigan, Director of Membership and Sponsorship of Leaders in Energy. The second panel, “Leaders in Energy Members Who Have Found or Created a Green Job,” saw four Leaders in Energy members share their stories and advice for finding a green job. While all four panelists are based in D.C., their experiences are relevant for green job seekers all over the country.
Many panelists described the meandering pathways they took before settling in their current positions. Andie Wyatt of Grid Alternatives, a solar installation and job training nonprofit, received a law degree and a Master’s in environmental economics and policy before working as an attorney, a job she wouldn’t describe as “greentech proper.” However, her varied interests in the green space and highly developed skills as a policy analyst landed her a very specific job as a policy and regulatory manager with Grid Alternatives.
John Paul (JP) Moscarella, on the other hand, successfully switched from a solar marketing position to environmental consulting later in life. He credits his transition to passion: he loves “the business case of doing good.” Though following one’s passion is oft-repeated advice for job seekers, Moscarella made a further suggestion: “If you love what you do, offer to do it for free.” His reasoning? 85% percent of jobs lie in small underfunded companies. Down the line, sincere passion for the job will not only provide valuable experience, but might lead to a paid offer.
An “Abundance of Opportunity”
Spencer Schecht works two green jobs, one with the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) and one with Green Drinks D.C., a social network connecting environmentally-minded individuals. He says there is an “abundance of opportunity in this field,” particularly in the nation’s capital, but it still takes a certain finesse to navigate it. Schecht provided concrete actions for green job seekers, such as making connections on LinkedIn (with a profile and resume tailored to the job you want) and pursuing informational interviews at local coffee shops on a weekly basis, through cold-email if need be. An audience member chimed in from an employer’s perspective: “One of our best hires came up to me out of the blue with his interest in the job, promising to earn all of the necessary certifications on his own.”
The second set of panelists stressed the values of hard work, good karma, and audacity. Panelist Sylvia Lucero of the nonprofit BlueGreen Alliance controlled her own destiny by earning a crucial Energy Master’s degree from Eco Action Arlington and by always treating everyone with good will. People tend to remember small acts of kindness.
But sometimes, a successful job search comes down to a little bit of luck. Schecht recounted, to laughter from the crowd: “I’m where I am today because as a graduate, my aunt gave me a check for 2 months’ [worth of rent] and said, ‘Keep going!’”
Caroline Heilbrun is a senior Environmental and Energy Studies major at Yale University. Professionally, Caroline is interested in the transformation of the electric utility industry, market-based mechanisms and investments to lower clean energy costs, and storage paired with renewables for a more resilient and reliable power grid.Caroline is a member of Yale University’s solar installation club, Students for Carbon Dividends, and the varsity swim team.