Environmentally focused jobs are likely on the rise

Betsy Graca

With graduation quickly approaching and a weary job market, “green-collar” jobs – employment related to renewable energy, environmental sustainability or efficiency – have become a widely discussed topic.

Renewable energy projects and industries can create millions of jobs in the U.S., some argue, and find alternatives to fuel dependency at the same time.

Democratic senatorial hopeful Al Franken has been on a green job tour for the past several days and met with University experts and students Wednesday to discuss Minnesota’s role in renewable energy.

“In the past, (the U.S.) has led other nations, now we’re following them,” Franken said. “We need to see this as a new opportunity to create new jobs.”

On Tuesday, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman presented a plan to promote environmental manufacturing jobs in the two cities.

The report the mayors released cited “growth and opportunity, especially in building produces, renewable energy and transportation.” The green enterprise is valued at an estimated $229 billion.

Not only politicians are discussing green jobs. Students looking for jobs are chatting about the industry as well.

Ben Frigo, a biochemical engineering graduate student, said renewable energy projects in Minnesota could provide jobs ranging from the basic worker to the researcher.

While Minnesota is buying wind-power turbines from Denmark, the plants should be created locally, he said.

Engineering senior Stephen Peichel echoed Frigo’s sentiments, saying Minnesota is competing with manufacturers in Europe.

Some wind-turbine companies are waiting for the elections to end to see what happens politically before building domestically, Peichel said.

“It just seems like a lot of things are on hold right now,” he said, “waiting to see what happens.”

Peichel is on track to graduate this fall, and he’s begun his job search.

“As I’m hunting for engineering jobs, I wonder, ‘Where are they?’ ” he said. “I have to move significantly far away to find them.”

Peichel said while he’s interviewing for “that perfect environmental job,” the Applied Environmental Solutions president is having trouble finding opportunities.

He said he didn’t think there’s a lot of confidence that environmentally related jobs exist yet; he often hears that companies like Xcel Energy and General Electric have growing divisions dealing with renewable energy, providing potential positions.

Sarah Nagel Newberg, director of the St. Paul career center, said she sees more environment-related career opportunities.

Beyond science- and technology-related jobs, Newberg said there are positions in environmental education, policy, architecture and marketing.

“You think of all the things that go on related to environmental issues,” she said. “It’s broader than what we just think of that narrow range of job opportunities.”

Associate professor Todd Arnold teaches classes for a newly created sustainability minor.

He said his classes have filled quickly since the minor became available a year ago because of a surging interest in environmental issues.

Arnold said not every one of his students is looking into a green career, and the minor is designed to apply sustainability toward any discipline.