Transitioning from High Tech to Green Tech

The greatest challenge in recruiting for green technology professionals at this time is the small pool of candidates with direct experience, relative to other sectors. From start-ups to established large firms, companies are setting the bar higher during the last few years. This is because they can and they should. The downturn has made available many more qualified (and less qualified) candidates for all roles. Companies are on tighter budgets and funding is not as easy to come by even as VC funding returns to healthier levels, so every penny counts and every opportunity should be fully exploited; all that to say, companies are looking to hire the best talent they can afford.

Green or clean tech has been around for several decades but not really considered viable by the mainstream until the last decade. Investment in cleantech has increased 15 fold over the last decade and leading industry resources such as the Cleantech Group anticipate that 2011 will be a record year for cleantech innovation financing due to growth in Asia and the ongoing push for resource efficiency. Given these industries’ high growth, fast innovation, and relative youth, the demand for qualified and experienced professionals is competitive, and will not be satisfied entirely by candidates within the greentech industries.

There are several ways to enter greentech. Executive Recruiter Greg Schreiner has written on the subject in an article entitled Breaking Into Green. Greg acknowledges the challenges and offers ideas such as joining industry groups, volunteering, and pursuing education and certifications.

By far the easiest way to get into greentech is to look to transferability. Of course certain skills and experience are more transferable than others. As both a high tech recruiter and a green recruiter, Redfish is uniquely positioned to help transition outstanding talent from high tech to greentech. In 2010 thirty-eight percent of our green placements came from a similar role in a high tech sector.

A lot of the engineering skills necessary for success in the solar field are similar to the skillset developed in semiconductor industries. Wind turbine manufacturers often seek out mechanical engineers with experience in rotating and vibrating machinery design from the aerospace industry. Auto manufacturing expertise can translate to renewables in terms of process engineers and the plant floor. Many of the needs in the smart grid space are similar to the RF/wireless/networking technology fields.

Software and hardware developers will transition to energy efficiency technologies, energy transmission and management, advanced metering, distributed power generation, and smart-grid consumer applications such as grid-friendly (chip enabled) appliances. IT expertise is also a driving force behind electric vehicles/charging, as well as solar technologies, manufacturing, and equipment design.

People with transferable skill sets will clearly find the least resistance to entry. It is important to clearly evaluate your experience and know-how and match that to sectors with similar skills. It is fairly easy for engineers to identify transition-friendly moves. Despite the old saying that a good sales person can sell anything, the transition for outside the industry for sales professionals can be more difficult. A sales generalist will have more significant barriers to entry, whereas someone in natural gas sales may find it more obvious to transition into biofuels sales.

Transitions stories abound, here are some of our favorite inspiring stories:

Interview: V2Green CEO David Kaplan, Leading Vehicle-to-Grid Startup
David Kaplan has over 30 years of technology experience, 12 years of which he spent, where he helped to create SQL Server. David founded V2Green in 2006 to develop software and hardware for utilities to better manage power flows to plug-in vehicles.

Solyndra highlights green technology transition (video interview)
by Karina Rusk
Dan Purdy worked at Intel for 14 years before he lost his job in plant shutdowns. Dan was able to transfer his high tech skills to work for Solyndra as an engineering manager in the FAB1 factory which manufactures solar panels. Solyndra's CEO said that it needs the talents of experienced high tech innovators for equipment design.

Success Stories – Renewable Energy on Contaminated Land
The two largest renewable energy tenants on the site are Gamesa Wind US LLC, a wind turbine manufacturer, and AE Polysilicon, a producer of the raw material, polysilicon, used in the manufacturing of photovoltaic solar panels. Gamesa Wind US LLC has three state-of-the-art turbine factories now produce high-tech blades, nacelles, and towers, employing more than 300 skilled laborers in a formerly blighted area. AE Polysilicon will invest $104 million in renewable energy facilities. The two companies will create 450 green jobs, not to mention hundreds of construction jobs.