Preparing students for climate-focused careers!

Preparing students for climate-focused careers!

By Jodi Pincus and Trevor Getz

I don’t remember learning much about different occupations in high school. I also don’t remember learning career-readiness skills like résumé writing, job-hunting, or interview techniques. Maybe your experience is different from mine, but even by the time I was a university graduate with a humanities degree, I still had no notion what career I wanted to pursue or how to start looking for a job. These are essential life skills. They are skills every student should acquire before graduating from high school, let alone college.

Let’s look at the problem from the perspective of a young person. While you’re in school, you really have little idea what career opportunities are available to you. And once you start to explore the possibilities, you find there are more professions to consider than you could possibly have imagined (as well as ways to start your own business as an entrepreneur). So you suddenly go from having too little information to having too much, with no real help navigating the universe that is open to you.

Many young people today care about the environment and social justice issues, and they want a meaningful career where they can make a difference. The good news is that many occupations today support a carbon-free future and are socially responsible. The problem is that we do not often teach students about these opportunities in school. As a result, they may think their only pathway is environmental science, when they might indeed pursue different pathways suited to their interests and needs, but there are many other ways in which a job can support a carbon-free future without being solely a green job like solar installer or EV technician.

For example, did you know that most decarbonization jobs are in the construction industry? Operating engineers will build the walls that protect areas from sea-level rise, plumbers and electricians will build and maintain electrification technology like heat-pump water heaters, and carpenters will ensure that buildings are made sustainably, using green building principles. Jobs in the construction industry can pay a very good salary with benefits, and in apprenticeship programsrigorous trade schools where students both work and attend classes related to their vocation—attendees are often paid.

Other professionals who support a carbon-free future include the engineers and architects designing the plans that construction workers implement. Green careers also exist in the legal field; environmental lawyers and policymakers create legislation that supports a carbon-free future. Then there are environmental justice advocates, educators, city planners, scientists, transportation workers, and office workers.

A variety of strategies exist for exposing students to different careers, including holding field trips to work sites and hosting guest speakers who can share their career stories first-hand and talk about how they got there. Every school should have a career readiness program that teaches students basic professional skills as well as exposing them to the multitude of career pathways. Digital literacy is another important element of career readiness and will set students up for success post-graduation.

Careers for Innovation activity worksheets.
Climate Expert Exploration activity worksheets.

Some career preparation also takes place within the classroom. In Climate Project, students assess their own interests and skills and to think about further education and climate-focused careers. This learning begins with a  Climate Expert Exploration activity that matches green strategies and technologies with occupations. In the articles and videos they encounter, students discover the experts who are leading the fight against climate change: lawyers, policymakers, scientists, technicians, and more. Through our range of graphic biographies, they also meet a diverse cast of individual professionals and learn about their career paths. These experts include people like Juanita Douglas, who teaches mainly formerly incarcerated students to install renewable energy technologies; Gurinder Nagra, an engineer devising a process to create zero-carbon cement; and Alvaro Sanchez, a policy leader who focuses on greening lower-income communities. Finally, in Unit 5, students have the opportunity to use all the evidence they’ve gathered to explore a specific career of interest and present to their peers at a Career Fair. Regardless of students’ interests and plans for the future, understanding the ways that climate change will impact these areas will help them be more prepared for the obstacles and opportunities they will encounter.

Details from a selection of Climate Project graphic biographies:  Juanita Douglas, Gurinder Nagra, and Alvaro SanchezDetails from a selection of Climate Project graphic biographies:
Juanita Douglas, Gurinder Nagra, and Alvaro Sanchez.

About the authors:

Jodi Pincus
Prior to becoming a consultant, Jodi worked for over 20 years in nonprofit management implementing workforce development, social justice, and sustainability programs, specifically working at the intersection of climate, equity, and workforce development. She served as the Executive Director of Rising Sun Center for Opportunity for 12 years, where she developed innovative green training and employment models that are held as exemplars in both the national and international community. Jodi holds a Green MBA from the Presidio Graduate, School and a BA in Peace and Conflicts Studies from UC Berkeley.

Trevor Getz
Trevor Getz is Professor of African History at San Francisco State University. He has written eleven books on African and world history, including
Abina and the Important Men. He is also the author of A Primer for Teaching African History, which explores questions about the way we should teach the history of Africa in high school and university classes.

Cover image: Montage of green and carbon-free jobs. All images © Getty Images.

  • I am a big fan of the Climate Project extension course after using last sprint with my on-level tenth graders.  Your article hits home because the two aspects of the course I loved the most were the Careers activity and the graphic biographies, because both were so relevant, hopeful, and tangible for my students. I was sorry to see that unit end, and State testing begin, and to lose the momentum we had been building.  
    do you have any suggestions for guiding students beyond the extension course, as far as career-choice inspiration/realization? Is there anything available (that isn’t too overwhelming) to help them find colleges/universities/trade schools that offer some of the tracks explored in the course? I’d love the opportunity to arm them with some information that they can take to their 11th grade guidance/college advisement meetings.

    Thanks again for these great blogs!