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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Eco Careers

Air Date: Week of

As school lets out this spring, thousands of college graduates will be heading off to pursue environmental careers. But they'll be entering a very different marketplace than their predecessors. Guest Host Laura Knoy (kuh-NOY) talks with Kevin Doyle, the co-author of The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers in the 21st Century, about changes in the environmental workforce.


KNOY: Colleges and universities are set to unleash this year's crop of graduates, sending thousands off to careers in various environmental fields. But the graduates will find a very different marketplace from the one that greeted their predecessors. Kevin Doyle is co-author of The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers in the 21st Century, now in its third edition. He says the field has changed greatly since the first edition of the guide came out just a decade ago.

DOYLE: It's a revolution. In 1989, there was an exceptionally large growth rate. Environmental careers, for instance, were being touted as right up there with software engineering and bioengineering and so forth as one of the jobs of the future, just in terms of total numbers. A second thing you had in 1989 was really a focus on waste. We had more solid waste, we had more hazardous waste, we had waste of all types growing. And therefore, you had the idea of a field of waste management. That this was our charge, was to manage waste as opposed to prevent it. Now, the environmental industry is really struggling. It's trying to find its place in an era of less waste. People are calling for greater efficiencies, less cost, less regulation, and that means fewer jobs. It also means, however, a different kind of job.

KNOY: What sort of jobs are we talking about?

DOYLE: One of the things we talk about in the book is a need for people, for instance, who combine business and science, or law and engineering. What we call multi-track professionals. We didn't talk about that at all in 1989, when we were talking about people who were going to be very much in their silos: waste people, water people, air people. Now we talk about multi-media people.

KNOY: In their silos meaning their own particular specialty, never looking outside that silo at the rest of the world.

DOYLE: Exactly. Not only was the regulatory system set up that way, but therefore the people who were in those jobs also thought that way: I am a water quality person. Now we know that we have a full ecosystem, and the people who work in environmental work need to see things whole.

KNOY: In the book, you mention that the bulk of environmental careers are still with either government, federal, state, or local; or with nonprofits. But you also say that the private sector is now shaping the environmental job market.

DOYLE: There's always been huge numbers of private sector jobs. The shift is that the marketplace is now a driver in creating jobs. Until recently, it was very hard to understand why people would spend money on environmental protection and conservation, unless it was mandated by the government. Now we're imagining a world, and it's starting to come into shape, where the marketplace itself, the idea of ability to either save money or make money by making investments, will generate jobs.

KNOY: Can you give us some examples of what you call market-based environmental jobs?

DOYLE: Sure. As we deregulate our energy economy that's based on fossil fuels, we find that that deregulation is generating opportunities for entrepreneurs to get involved in solar, in wind, in other kinds of environmental energies. And they do that not because the government is requiring it, but more because there's an opportunity to make a profit. And that generates wonderful opportunities for new kinds of environmental professionals. On the saving money side, when you prevent pollution, and especially when you prevent pollution involving toxic substances, you save huge amounts of money. Not only do you save the obvious ways, that you're not going to get fined, but you don't have to treat things, you don't have to store them, you don't have to distribute them, you don't have to send them anywhere, you don't have to have lawyers watching over it. And all of that means huge, huge cost savings.

KNOY: Do the changes in environmental jobs reflect changing politics in the US?

DOYLE: Absolutely. You don't need me to tell you. Anybody can just pickup the paper and notice that the idea of using, especially the Federal government as a main engine of social change, meaning ever-higher levels of regulation, new kinds of legislation that are sweeping things that are going to invest billions of dollars, we're not having that kind of legislation. We are not having that kind of increase in regulation. And because of that, we're looking for other drivers as a method, not only of creating environmental protection and conservation but of creating the jobs that come as a result of that.

KNOY: Kevin Doyle is the National Director of Program Development at the Environmental Careers Organization and co-author of The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers in the 21st Century. Kevin, thanks a lot for joining us.

DOYLE: Thank you.



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