- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Trade Your Dress Greens for the Green Industry

By Heidi Russell Rafferty, Contributing Editor

Article Sponsored by: Vinnell Arabia

Would you expect that a Marine Corps Infantry officer and twice-to-Iraq war-fighter would catch his second wind by selling wind?

Josh Jamison certainly did not, but today the Purple Heart veteran is doing just that as a project development manager for General Electric's Global Development Strategic Initiatives.

Jamison is part of the ever-growing, recession-surviving "green" industry, a broad collection of technology-based sectors focused on energy efficiency and conservation; renewable energy generation, distribution and storage; and reducing carbon usage to preserve the environment.

According to Jamison, "Green energy is popular, and I have found that all the opportunities discussed in green energy are true. At its core, green energy is still a business where products must be differentiated and desired by customers, have quality and be made with low costs to ensure a profit. If renewable energy excites you, that is a plus, but at the core you need a desire to be a part of (those) aspects of business."

Many company CEOs and HR recruiters agree that this industry is a perfect match for veterans because the available positions are similar to many military service jobs.

Green industry sectors had an estimated national market value of $77 billion in 2007 and have a projected market value of more than $254 million in 2017, says Michael Fritsch, president and COO of the solar power company Confoe Inc. in Austin, Texas.

Fritsch, a former Army field artillery captain and recognized green industry expert, has hired hundreds of veterans during his 21-year career. "I believe that military veterans are very well positioned to transition into these green jobs," he says.

Jobs include manufacturing, sales, installation, operations and maintenance, and research, Fritsch adds. "They range from highly educated, highly paid engineers to construction workers, installers, and insulation workers. Many of these careers simply require existing/traditional skill sets like electricians and plumbers. Others require more detailed 'green specific' training."

Finding your place
Although the recession has dampened fast-paced industry growth, recruiters agree that green companies are still holding their own and gaining ground - quite a feat in this current economy. They predict that as economic improvement occurs, these companies will increase hiring.

Dave Ferguson, military recruiter at GE, notes, "From an environmental standpoint, the green industry is good for the U.S. in a bunch of ways. The economy is not allowing it to grow as fast as hoped."

So how do you segue your military training into a green job and find your place in this industry before it takes off without you? First, says Fritsch, attack the question from a skill standpoint, not a company standpoint. "Don't say, 'I want to go work for wind. Let's see how to do that." Say, "I'm really excited by the concept of wind turbines and electricity generation. What skills do I need to work on the turbines? What are the skills I have today and how will I make up the difference? he says.

You will begin to see from that point where to transfer your skill sets, Fritsch adds. What you lack you can easily gain through green power programs at local community colleges, state tech colleges or trade schools, he says.

What's hot?
Consider green jobs such as solar power and wind generation. Ferguson notes that GE is one of the world's top three wind turbine manufacturers. A prominent job opportunity at GE is the Junior Officer Leadership Program, in which Jamison is participating. About 50 junior officers are selected each year to go through three eight-month rotations in different business units. Jamison has done two rotations so far Ð first as wind project manager, and now he is in project development, which includes site acquisition, grid interconnection and wind resource evaluation before turbines are constructed.

Ferguson also notes that GE hires people in the service ranging from enlisted people who can handle maintenance and repair of its products to officers like Jamison who can take over everything from project management to sales.

But there are other types of green companies, too.

As a job hunter, when you are thinking "green," think outside the box. Do not limit yourself to the obvious opportunities in solar or wind power - think about all of the ways that green technology is used in people's everyday lives.

For example, many cities are now mandating energy audits for houses being sold and a lot of states are also talking about mandating the practice. This single-handedly creates an entire industry, says Avi Yaschin, CEO of Clean Edison of New York City. His company offers training in 45 U.S. cities for exams to achieve The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and The Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification. The company fields about 2,000 calls daily from people who want training to get into the industry.

"The economy is still in the doldrums but what we tell the students is, find water before you need it. There will be inevitable recovery, and you should start building a client base now," Yaschin says.

Military service people have a host of skills that dovetail nicely into the arena of home and building retrofitting. "They've been working on ship engines, tank engines, in the bowels of aircraft carriers. These are all the same systems," he says. "You can take the person and throw them into a large multi-family residential building or commercial office, and it'll have the same HVAC, generator, similar types of mechanisms."

In many cases, the military will pay for certification course work, he adds. Clean Edison has relationships with Work Force One universities all over the country.

Green Homes America is one such company that specializes in home environmental retrofits. It has offices in Syracuse, N.Y., Princeton, N.J., and Simi Valley and Cerritos, Calif. Senior VP of Market Development Mike Rogers says jobs are not limited to trades people - there are also opportunities for project managers and crew supervisors.

"We do large million-dollar multi-family apartment buildings, making them more energy efficient. NCOs and officers who are used to running teams of people are needed," Rogers says. The payoff to such a profession is the immediate satisfaction one gets from improving people's lives, he adds.

"If you don't mind getting dirty and at the end of the day, you like to step back and see the results of your work, this is for you. You're making other people happy and safer and saving energy in their own home. It's fun walking into a house on a two-day project and getting hugged by the home owner! Almost every job you'll get dirty, but you really have a sense of impacting individuals' lives."

Freelancer Heidi Russell Rafferty is a reporter with 19 years of experience who writes about employment and business issues.


Return to October 2009 Issue