Technology, innovation, and environmental awareness are drastically reshaping many industries and the jobs provided by them. For example, many fossil fuel-based energy businesses are facing a pessimistic jobs outlook as alternative fuels and a heightened awareness of environmental issues prompts both civilians and governments to adopt eco-friendly, renewable sources of energy.
While this shift is ultimately expected to reduce the job force in some industries, it is also creating new career paths offering bright futures rife with opportunity. Prospective and current college students—and even professionals currently in the work force—could create future employment opportunities for themselves by pursuing fields in job tracks that are expected to experience heightened demand in the coming years and decades.
With that in mind, here are three of the fastest-growing careers in the green technology and environmental preservation industries:
Environmental Engineering Technician
An environmental engineering technician more or less works at the behest of environmental engineers, carrying out tasks based on the designs and demands of the engineers. These tasks usually revolve around pollution management or prevention and could involve field work and monitoring, although much of the assigned work will be conducted in a laboratory setting.
These technicians can make a reasonable wage for their work—the median annual salary as of 2010 was over $43,000—and working as a technician requires much less education than an environmental engineer position would demand. Most companies prefer technicians to have a two-year technical degree, although some may be hired without this level of education.
The job outlook for environmental engineer technicians is a rosy one: between 2010 and 2020, the number of engineering technician positions is expected to increase by about 24 percent, well above the national average for all jobs. A fair number of these positions are expected to be provided by local and state governments working to improve water use and treatment, among other environmental management goals.
Some of the downsides to this position can include irregular work schedules, which can occur when sites or equipment need to be monitored around-the-clock. Additionally, some technicians may have to work with hazardous materials, making safety an important consideration to prevent injuries and other long-term damage in the workplace.
An environmental engineer typically benefits from a salary almost double that of an environmental engineer technician—the median salary in 2010 was $78,700—but with that comes increased responsibility and much more stringent education requirements.
Where a technician is strongly advised to get a two-year technical degree, engineers are required to earn a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering or a similar field. Getting an environmental engineering license can also improve job prospects, as can gaining work experience through cooperative engineering programs offered to students.
The nature of an environmental engineer’s work can take him or her to a variety of locations, including laboratories, construction sites, and natural bodies of water. Their primary goal is to solve various environmental problems and improve environmentally friendly processes like recycling, public health, and water disposal.
Like environmental engineering technicians, engineers should see significant job growth between 2010 and 2020—roughly 22 percent, slightly less than technicians but still above the national average for job growth among all occupations, which is at 14%.
A career as a geoscientist is far from what you’d call an office job. As scientists studying the Earth—particularly in its relation to the society we’ve built upon it — geoscientists are on the road a lot, traveling to diverse and sometimes remote locations to study the earth, conduct experiments and provide consultation services.
This sometimes requires irregular hours, but at other times geoscientists will be in a laboratory or office conducting experiments and tests or doing other related work. To become a geoscientist, a bachelor’s degree in geology, geoscience, or a related field is required. Individuals hoping to sell their services to the public may need to receive licensure to do so from their state.
The good news is that, at a median salary of $82,000 as of 2010, geoscientists can make a good living off of their work. Furthermore, a projected 21 percent increase in geoscientist positions between 2010 and 2020 suggests an optimistic future for the profession.
As environmental issues continue to be a key concern both politically and culturally, new efforts to manage and improve upon how society and its mechanisms affect the environment will continue to be highly visible. As a result, new jobs in these fields are a safe bet for workers. Decades of lapses in environmental quality control have created a lot of catching up to do, so expect these positions to be in high demand for the foreseeable future.
Tara Jackson is an education and career prep enthusiast. When she’s not writing about or researching colleges and careers for www.EduTrek.com, she enjoys reading classic literature, hiking in the mountains, and traveling. @tjatedutrek. Photo by DanaK~WaterPenny