Future of Work

Students Want to Know More About Careers in Climate Change—Now

By Alyson Klein — January 19, 2023 2 min read
Doodles related to green jobs, climate change.
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Students who are watching increasingly dangerous and more frequent storms batter cities and seeing families fleeing wildfires want more information on how climate change might shape their career choices.

But workforce education has been slow to provide answers, or revamp training programs, to prepare students for jobs that help mitigate the effects of climate change, educators and experts say.

In fact, 30 percent of the roughly 1,000 teenagers surveyed by the EdWeek Research Center last fall said they wanted to learn more about job opportunities related to sustainability and climate change. But few are hearing about those kinds of careers in school: 22 percent of teachers say they talk to students about those kinds of career opportunities.

One high-schooler looking for a career in helping to mitigate climate change is Mackenzie Harsell, a junior at Hopewell Valley Central High School in New Jersey, who makes “eco-bricks” out of recycled plastic that can serve as reusable building blocks in her spare time. She is interested in a career in applied sustainability, an idea sparked by a college pamphlet she received in the mail.

In that job, “I would help businesses be more sustainable, through their emissions, their packaging, their practices, things like that,” Mackenzie said in an interview. “To me, that sounds really interesting. Because I get to directly change and teach people how they can do better on a smaller scale, which then spreads to end up being a larger scale.”

Many students, though, say that they aren’t having conversations at school about careers that help fight or deal with the impact of climate change, at least not to the extent they would like. Some blame a lack of information in general, not their teachers.

“Teachers have taught me to how to think critically” about the environment, said Josh Layne, a senior at Orange High School in Lewis Center, Ohio. “I don’t think they have the resources to teach me to find a career as well.”

Is a Civilian Climate Corps the answer?

Part of the solution could come from a proposal in Washington for a Civilian Climate Corps, modeled on the conservation corps of the 1930s. The idea has been floated by Democrats in Congress, and the Biden administration even put out an executive order aimed at getting the corps started. But, so far, Congress hasn’t passed the legislation needed to officially create it.

There’s significant public interest in the program, according to a recent poll by Data for Progress, a progressive think tank and polling firm. Sixty-three percent of likely voters support the idea, compared with just 24 percent who oppose it.

Democrats are far more likely to approve of the program, according to the poll, with an overwhelming 83 percent in favor of it, compared with 48 percent of independent voters, and about a quarter of Republicans.

The climate corps could help conserve public lands, increase reforestation, protect biodiversity, smooth the transition to renewable energy sources, and help communities recover from hurricanes and other weather-related disasters, according to its advocates. The program would also help establish career pathways for workers interested in pursuing careers created to help mitigate climate change. Those working in the corps would receive a living wage and educational benefits, under a bill introduced by Sen. Edward Markey in 2021.

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