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Green Jobs Get Green Light in Today's Market

Although many U.S. college seniors are worried about the job market in today's ailing economy, many who have trained for so-called "green" careers in environmentally friendly enterprises are seeing a sunnier future. They're hoping the huge economic stimulus bill passed recently by the U.S. Congress will pump billions of dollars over the next few years into green industries and clean energy development and create a wealth of new jobs.

The global economy might be in a slowdown, but the air was humming with possibilities at the recent "All-Ivy Environmental and Sustainable Development Career Fair" at Columbia University in New York City. The 800 or so student attendees from Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton and other elite Ivy League universities came with a wide range of environmentally focused interests and skills, from engineering and economics to natural resources management.

Shanghai-born Shejun Xu, a Columbia College environmental sciences major, said he hopes his familiarity with both China and the U.S. will impress employers when he graduates in 2012.

"I think I will do something internationally, like maybe environmental law," he mused, "or perhaps [a job that facilitates] environmental cooperation between nations."

Opportunities abound for graduate education

Educational institutions hoping to woo gifted students into their graduate programs and internships were well-represented at the fair. Peter Otis, who directs the career development program at Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, also was interested in finding his students jobs with an international focus. Many of Yale's older students come from the Peace Corps, and other international aid organizations and international students comprise about 30 percent of the school's population.

"They spend all of their waking hours talking about power plants and forests and marine issues and sea-rise in low lying countries, to the melting of the glaciers," Otis said with a chuckle.

Stimulus to fund new government jobs

Several government regulatory agencies involved in environmental issues had recruiters at the fair. They sought law students interested in prosecuting polluters or political science majors who could help write policies.

Many new government hires will be paid for by President Obama's ambitious new economic stimulus package.

"I've definitely been seeing a lot more people stopping at our table than I have in the past," said Jim Feely, a recruiter with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who had been fielding student questions non-stop for hours.

"I know President Obama is part of that, and people want to come and work for him," he added. "But the green movement is really going on right now, and everybody wants to be a part of it. We're leading the charge!"

Corporations try to lure top students

Like everyone in America, the graduating students at the fair were aware that today's job market is fiercely competitive, with many industries still shedding employees rather than hiring new ones.

But Meaghan Daly, who will soon get a master's degree from Columbia's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, believes that the "green" jobs arena is bound to grow.

"One of the people I spoke to here today was really hopeful they were going to be able to expand their jobs [listings] by a couple of hundred to even thousands once the stimulus package goes through," she said. "So that gave me hope that things in my field may be looking up."

Many recruiters were from large corporations, such as Environ, which provides international consulting services on environmental sustainability, cleanup and other issues. Environ recruiter Kevin Long said the Environ booth was teeming with students who, just a year ago, might have passed by his table.

"We're delighted," he beamed. "In the past, we have had to compete with investment banks, hedge funds [and other] people that were pulling the best engineers and scientists out of these schools. And this year, because of the conditions of the economy, we're getting an opportunity to go after those students."

Non-profits look for people to help police business

While there were more corporations represented at the green jobs fair than any other sector, hundreds of students were hoping for jobs with the many non-profit groups that work to promote environmental causes. Lauren Grochmal works for an organization called the Green Careers Center.

"I mean, the corporations can do really great things, and if they would take a stand and say, 'Hey look. We have big power to do big things,' that would be great. But you also have to have policy to manage the ones that don't."

Grochmal then pointed to some tables operated by Environment America, the Sierra Club and other national organizations, and said, "We need them to say, 'Hey, guys. Here's what's really right. Here's what's really wrong,' and 'Let us help you along the way.'"

But no matter which sector the students at the fair ultimately enter - non-profit, corporate, government or education, most seemed to agree on two things: the brightest career future is green, and they are the future of green.