Young Workers Want Green Jobs, New Study

By Alice Kantor

A sea change is happening in the world of work. In fact, it’s a sea, air and wildlife change.

A growing number of young people are zeroing-in on climate-related work, looking for green jobs and turning away from mere money-making as companies fight for highly skilled talent. They’re leaving companies that fail to meet those standards and becoming more demanding toward the ones that profess to meet them. Along the way, many are finding that environmentalism now pays.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Many young workers are committed to finding jobs that offer climate solutions or contribute to halting global warming, according to interviews with workers and students around the globe as well as data from U.S. consultancy Deloitte, the Pew Research Center and recruitment platform LinkedIn. Extreme weather, the Paris climate agreement and teenage activist Greta Thunberg have made sustainability efforts top-of-mind.

“It’s a new world out there,” said Cheryl D’Cruz-Young, leading recruitment officer with U.S. consulting firm Korn Ferry. “Young people will not work with companies they don’t agree with.”

A record 49% of people aged 18 to 25 and 44% of people aged 26 to 38 chose their preferred work or employers based on personal ethics, according to a February survey of 23,000 people across 45 countries from Deloitte, with climate change the top concern of the youngest cohort, above unemployment and education.

People aged 18 to 25 in particular “are really passionate about climate change, and they’re taking action,” said Deloitte global sustainability leader Kathy Alsegaf. “There’s a new sense of purpose, and jobs have to align with that.” 

That’s how London-based Hamish Reid, 35, felt. Reid worked eight years for BP, Total, GDF Suez and consulting firms to the oil industry, helping them adapt to new technologies and processes. Then, he quit.

Now working for PayGreen, an ecological financial-services company, he is developing a methodology that tracks companies’ carbon footprint and decides transaction rates based on those rankings. 

“I didn’t feel like I had a choice,” the husband and father of two said of the switch to a green career, “it’s really about acting now before it’s too late.”

The year 2020 saw the largest increase in the amount of recent bachelor’s and MBA graduates joining the renewables and environmental field, according to LinkedIn data. It also had the largest drop in graduates joining the oil and gas industry.

Nearly a third of Americans aged 18 to 24 said they took action to fight climate change this year, either contacting an elected official, donating to charity, volunteering or attending a protest, according to a May survey of 14,000 Americans by Pew Research. About 28% of people between the ages of 25 and 40 said they did so as well. That’s compared with only 23% of people aged 41 to 56, and 21% of people over 57.

A growing number of companies, including in the oil and gas industry, now offer young people the opportunity to add climate-related skills to their resumes. Shell started offering sustainability training to fleet managers to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. Starbucks, Walmart, Nike, KPMG and Goldman Sachs all provide climate-related trainings to staff.

“Business is increasingly focused on the sustainability issue, they recognize they can play a role,” said Alsegaf. And increasingly, they must, thanks to burgeoning demand for people with expertise. The International Labor Organization estimates that 24 million jobs worldwide could be created by the green economy by 2030 alone. 

For Arthur Gosset, 24, climate was a vague concept until he arrived at university. Having studied subjects like physics, chemistry and mathematics in France’s notoriously competitive “classes préparatoires,” Gosset was selected to enter Centrale Nantes, an elite engineering school that’s one of the nation’s so-called Grandes Écoles. 

“It wasn’t in the classroom so much as with classmates that we started talking about this, and realized we wanted our future to have meaning, not just financial comfort or social success,” he said. His next project, a startup advising corporations on the modern workplace and how to attract young talent, will include elements on how to support green projects.

“The companies of the future will need to put the common good, social good and the planet at the heart of their mission if they want to appeal to young adults,” he said.

Still, for some young professionals, the competition to land a meaningful job remains high. 

New-Hampshire-born Marielle Brunelle, 23, was looking for jobs in sustainability after getting international and public relations degrees from Syracuse University. “You could find senior-level jobs, chief sustainability roles or roles for lifelong experts in sustainability who worked in cocoa firms for 10 years and had a really niche expertise,” she said, otherwise “for internship roles, you needed a master’s degree.” That’s the route she decided to take.

Skilled talent with the years of experience or university degrees to meet the demand is scarce, analysts report, especially in fields that are relatively new, such as sustainable finance. Now, financial investors are recruiting climate scientists with no formal financial training, and companies value green skills on a resume over university degrees, LinkedIn reports. 

Even Deloitte’s Alsegaf, the global sustainability leader, admits to being a casualty in the war over talent. “Do we have trouble recruiting? Yes,” she said, adding that if she waits too long to make an offer, her choice candidate will get snapped up by another firm.

To attract those employees, companies need to convince young adults of their green credentials and be transparent about it, Brunelle said.

Finishing a master’s degree in a freshly launched sustainability program at France’s SciencesPo university, the 23-year-old said her soon-to-graduate classmates are a lot pickier about the jobs they accept and projects they take on than previous generations.

“If it’s just about helping a corporation compile their carbon footprint reporting, they are not as interested as if it’s a more holistic change to the company,” she said.

Brunelle recently got an offer to work with large corporations to help them find solutions to reduce their carbon footprint and is expecting a yearly starting salary of more than $100,000.

“Historically, climate jobs pay little. But that’s changing now,” she said.

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