Verdant vocations: India’s first green jobs fair

Verdant vocations: India’s first green jobs fair

New Delhi: India’s first green jobs fair kicked off at the India Habitat Center in New Delhi yesterday.

Organized by The Climate Project India and the Sierra Club, the Green Jobs Fair 2009 runs for 3 days, from the 24 to the 26 of September.

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While the event is definitely worth a visit, calling it a “job fair" is a misnomer – and one that doesn’t necessarily do it justice.

Unlike the traditional job fair that amasses CVs and is actively trying to attract the best candidates, this so called job fair takes a more macro view. The focus is not so much on who is hiring and what positions are open, as on the broader issue of spreading awareness about sustainable initiatives, the green sector’s potential for growth, and the need for skilled individuals to populate it. To that extent, the fair is less about getting people jobs in this sector and more about telling them that green jobs are an option they should be considering.

That being said, there are several organizations that are currently accepting CVs, such as the WWF, Godrej, Nature First and Dalberg. AISEC and iVolunteer are seeking volunteers, while IFMR Trust is looking for interns. Day one attracted a mix of students, recent university graduates and those looking to transition out of their existing jobs.

According to Gaurav Gupta, director of The Climate Project India, the green sector is a burgeoning market and professionals in the sector can expect higher salaries. He points to an Economic Times study of employment trends in the US and the UK, where data suggests that green jobs pay up to 20% more than other jobs. “You’re required to have added skill sets and so you would naturally command more money," he says. “For instance, if you’re doing a science or an engineering degree, you need to take that incremental step, those added courses to understand the sustainability angle."

He emphasizes natural resource management as one area in which there is a dearth of highly skilled individuals and maintains that there is a need for research about the type of skills sets, as well as the number of individuals and training institutions necessary to man various areas of the green sector.

While the fair features only 27 exhibitors it offers a very tactical insight into the work that organizations like the Self Employed Women’s Organization and Barefoot College–a Rajasthan based center that aims to address social problems in rural areas–are doing at the grassroots level.

SEWA volunteers from Gujarat attracted a crowd by showcasing how the organization is teaching rural women to compost their own fertilizers, create biogas to use as cooking fuel, harvest salt from underground water and create solar powered lanterns and mobile chargers.

Barefoot College had organized a display to demonstrate how solar cookers function. The organization trains semi-illiterate women as solar engineers, work that is traditionally perceived as being a man’s job in Rajasthan, so they can create and install the solar cookers on their own.

The College also showcased other initiatives, like its kabaad se jugaad or recycling section, which has thus far trained 97 physically challenged individuals to create products out of recycled materials, and a communication initiative that uses puppets to raise awareness about social issues like health, minimum wage and women’s rights.

While the green sector may be a burgeoning market, Avinash Krishnamurthy, director of sustainable architecture firm Biome Environmental Solutions, points out that finding educated, appropriately skilled individuals to man this sector is not easy.

“To fight a war you first have to build an army," he said. “Our greatest challenge is human capital."

Krishnamurthy perhaps sums up the underlying theme of the fair: although the green sector forms an untapped market potentially worth billions, successfully exploiting this market requires not simply the creation of job opportunities, but also developing the infrastructure necessary to create the skills and knowledge to successfully fill these.

In order for this to happen, students and educators need to recognize the value of developing the necessary skill sets and knowledge, while policy makers must provide the incentives and resources to fuel such recognition. “There is a need for policy changes which could help encourage investment in this sector in the first place," says Gupta. “It doesn’t make sense for someone to invest in getting trained in sustainable practices for instance if building codes aren’t being enforced."

While the green jobs fair is only on in New Delhi until Saturday, Climate Project India and the Sierra Club plan on organizing job fairs in various parts of the country in the near future. Next stop Mumbai.