I am frequently approached by students and young professionals who are part of the 63 % of millennials seeking work with purpose (1). Indeed we recently posted a position for an analyst to join our investor relations team in Toronto and received over 200 applications from extremely impressive and qualified candidates.
As much as I'd like to, I can’t go for a career coffee/beer/call with everyone who asks, so here are the top tips and resources that I wish someone had given with me when I first started out in this space.
First off, there are great organizations in all sectors doing this work. Some of the smartest people I know work in government, at all levels, creating clean energy policy & regulations. Others in the not for profit and think tank space provide the backbone for much of this thinking. As well, there are handfuls of smart consultants and other professionals working to help companies be more sustainable.
For this purposes of this post though I will focus on the 50,000 jobs across 800 companies that analytica advisors identified as being private sector cleantech and clean energy companies in Canada.
Clean technology companies or clean energy developers?
When looking for your dream clean energy job, it's important to understand the difference between these two groups of companies and the skills sets they look for.
Clean technology companies
These companies are developing a new technology. Typically this is a new piece of hardware (ie. a new energy storage system using underwater balloons), a new engineering process (turning waste into fuel), but can also be new software (green-web companies). While some of this innovation is going on within large companies, there is also a healthy cleantech startup ecosystem across the country. These companies are looking for smart people across the board from sales and marketing, to finance and engineering.
The best place to track these companies down? Look for events and hubs in your hometown. For example, Montreal’s Cycle Capital EcoFuel Accelerator’s list of current and alumni companies; the MaRS Cleantech Group in Toronto; the portfolio companies of cleantech venture capital firms like Enertech or Chrysalix. Finally, take a look at Sustainable Development Technology Canada. This granting and investment organization backs companies piloting clean energy projects. Companies with traction are more likely to be hiring.
Clean energy developers
These companies put those technologies to work, deploying clean energy and energy efficiency projects including solar, wind, energy storage, and energy efficiency.
To succeed they need to juggle a host of functions in a fast-changing industry and policy environment. They need smart people to help them understand government policy and where it’s heading; build partnerships with building managers, communities and landowners; manage engineering and construction firms; secure permits; line-up financing; perform due diligence.
If you’re interested in working with a developer, first take a look at Clean Energy Canada reports to see where clean energy is being built in Canada. Or if you’re looking to have international impact, firms like Toronto-based JCM Capital are leveraging their expertise from building local solar projects to now developing solar in Africa and other emerging markets.
Passion is essential, but don’t slack on the hard skills
While screening applicants for our most recent position, we looked for a combination of talent and demonstrated passion. Those who were able to articulate not only that they wanted to change the world, but why and how, rose to the top.
A Google image search for "clean energy jobs" brings up photos of people in fields or on roofs with hard hats. To work in this field you certainly don't need a background in engineering or construction, as I mentioned there are roles for people with all sorts of skill sets. I do want to note though that increasingly the qualifications required by clean energy firms emphasize financial literacy so don’t slack here.
If you don’t know how to do a project finance model in excel teach yourself using resources from the US National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) or Canada’s NRCAN model. There are also thousands of online courses like Coursera that can help at a low cost.
Just get out there
We’re talking about a relatively young industry and a friendly community of people who want to make a difference. You can start meeting these companies by joining industry groups.
I personally recommend ELSE Emerging Leaders for Solar Energy; volunteering and attending conferences and trade shows like Solar Canada (coming up in December in Toronto), or Pembina’s recent Alberta Climate Summit in Calgary. My colleagues Trish Nixon and Lauryn Drainie recommend WIRE Women in Renewable Energy, and WISE Women Investing for a Sustainable Economy.
Read these two books & start following blogs
Creating Climate Wealth by Jigar Shah – It’s 80% of what I know about the clean energy sector
A Decision Maker's Guide to Long Term Finance by Kathrin Ohle – Not just because it was written by CoPower’s Chief Investment Officer, but because this is the book I wish I had 10 years ago.
I suggest Greentechmedia.com as the best outlet to stay on top of industry trends. If you spend 1 hr a week reading news, in 4-6 weeks you’ll have a huge insight into what is going on in the industry.
1. What motivates millennials, by Tyler Hamilton, Corporate Knights, March 20, 2015.