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Looking For A Long-Term Career? Here’s Why Clean Energy’s A Good Place To Start

Jigar Shah

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careers in clean energy

What constitutes a “career” has changed drastically over the years.

With the rise of the gig economy, especially, the days are gone where an employee would work for only a few companies over their entire career. Gone are pensions, corporate ladders, and even the security of saving reliably for retirement. Many prominent companies are trying desperately to hire people as contractors and prove that they are not employees. As a result, many Americans now make their living with temporary, freelance, or part-time jobs. Over a third of Millennials, for example, report having multiple “side hustles” in addition to their primary jobs.

For most, that flexibility is actually a very stressful way of life.

In fact, very little about the gig economy or the professional culture it has inspired proves beneficial for workers. For one thing, the companies offering this kind of work often don’t ensure that their contractors have the best training to reach their full potential. By definition, their contractors are dispensable and the companies want to commoditize them. Also, given that the contractors have to pay for their own business expenses, it feels next to impossible to do something like save for retirement or for your kids’ college tuition when you have to hit next month’s numbers to pay rent. 

And that lack of stability creates a lack of confidence.

But the truth is, it is possible — even in today’s professional climate — to find gainful, long-term, and stable employment in America today. You might just be looking in the wrong places.

The real best place to find a fulfilling, long-term career? The clean energy sector. Here’s why.

Clean energy as an industry is uniquely equipped to provide stable careers because it’s essentially infrastructure.

The clean energy industry is, in essence, an industry rooted in infrastructure. In 2018, 1 out of every 23 people that found new work chose the clean energy industry. That has been true since the 2008 financial crisis.

Clean energy companies today are building and installing solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. They’re composting food and green waste, recycling, and turning waste to value. The largest employee base in the clean energy economy is making your home more comfortable through energy efficiency. They’re completing work that’s dangerous and in which mistakes are expensive to rectify.

That’s why clean energy companies want and need to retain employees who know what they’re doing and who they can rely upon.

As it happens, they’ll pay good money for these kinds of employees and will commit to them long-term. Which makes sense — why would you not want to commit to employees by way of a stable, reliable income if you’d spent a year or so training them? You’d want your workers to become more productive, smarter, and safer over 10, 20, even 30 years.

That’s the prevailing employer mindset right now in clean energy.

Aside from the good wages and long-term support, clean energy jobs are dignified and don’t always require direct experience.

And those kinds of opportunities are increasingly rare in America today, especially in blue-collar or service work. According to a recent report from Brookings: “Mean hourly wages exceed national averages by 8 to 19 percent. Clean energy economy wages are also more equitable; workers at lower ends of the income spectrum can earn $5 to $10 more per hour than other jobs.”

The clean energy sector may be the only remaining sector, in fact, where an American worker who is not an engineer or executive can obtain a $45-an-hour job with benefits.

It’s also one of the only sectors where you don’t need direct experience to apply. Clean energy companies will take people who’ve just graduated with a high school diploma and train and commit to them, so long as they work hard and believe in the work.

The clean energy sector is also committed to diversity and inclusion. There are many programs through which people who “don’t know someone” can enter the clean energy industry. These are accessible through available certifications, or GRID alternatives, which train thousands of clean energy workers every year.

To start looking for a clean energy job, tap your local vocational school.

There you’ll find professionals who can both prepare you for the kind of work you want to be doing — whether that’s in electricity, mechanics, or construction — as well as connect you with employers when you’re ready.

Another option is to begin working for a contractor. They’ll teach you the basics around installation efficiency, ventilation, or construction, for example, so that you can provide a more specific kind of value to clean energy companies when they bring you on board.

The bottom line is this: the clean energy sector is overflowing with opportunity, from renewable energy, to energy storage, to energy efficiency, to advanced vehicles and autonomous transportation.

And it’s uniquely positioned to provide opportunity that also comes with stability. Plus, tellingly, it’s growing. A 2017 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report found that the energy sector employed 6.4 million Americans and that a majority of those jobs were in renewable energy and efficiency.

A career you can depend on is still obtainable. The economy of our parents’ generations may be a relic of the past, but the economy of the future is ours for the taking.

Jigar Shah is a clean energy entrepreneur in creating market-driven solutions and eliminating market barriers to address climate change. Shah has recognized this as Creating Climate Wealth. Shah is the co-founder and President of Generate Capital. Shah was the founder and CEO of SunEdison (NASDAQ: SUNE), where he pioneered “no money down solar” and unlocked a multi-billion-dollar solar market, creating the largest solar services company worldwide. Shah is author of Creating Climate Wealth: Unlocking the Impact Economy, 2013 Icosa Publishing.

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