Eco-friendly jobs affected by economics

America might be going green, but Tampa’s environmental job market has withered, a panel of environmental professionals said recently.

The Student Environmental Association – a student organization that promotes volunteerism and environmental awareness – hosted an environmental career discussion Monday night, which featured five environmental professionals from the Tampa area. The experts agreed that ecological jobs, like many other occupations, are scarce in the Bay area.

“It’s pretty difficult to find a job in our field,” Heather Maggio, president of the Tampa Bay Association of Environmental Professionals, said. “The environmental field is always the first to get cut.”

The job shortage comes at a time when eco-friendly behavior is a new trend, the panelists said. The panel welcomed America’s “green movement,” however, even if it does not improve employment.

“Fifty years down the road, it has the potential to have as big an impact as the industrial revolution,” Florida Fish and Wildlife biologist Chad Allison said.

While corporations’ environmental pledges work well in marketing, they have not translated to more jobs because of a combination of economics and politics, panelists said. Maggio said that environmental funds dry up during presidential election periods.

“If we get who we want (in the 2008 election), things will turn around,” she said.

As is the case with most new technology, the green revolution is not cheap. Many companies would rather cut costs than cut pollution, Maggio said. If environmental services are not required by law, they are simply not in demand, she said.

“That’s our job: To convince them that it is to their economic advantage,” said USF professor of environmental law and former environmental policy writer Donald Weir.

Some of the panelists, such as Mote Marine Laboratory biologist Ernest Esteves, remained optimistic while discussing future job prospects.

“You should not be overly depressed by conditions right now,” he said. “We are just dealing with a temporary setback.”

Esteves added that students hoping to find quick work should prepare to travel across the state or even the country. The condition of the local economy has made job searches in Tampa difficult, he said.

Another way to overcome the stagnant environmental job market is to secure an internship as soon as possible, the panelists said.

“If you graduate in May, start looking for an internship (now),” Maggio said.

Weir had a different suggestion, however: “McDonald’s!”

The panelists agreed that with so few jobs, only the most enthusiastic candidates might secure a position.

“You’ve got to be proactive. If you sit back, nothing will come to you,” said Daniel Yeh, professor of environmental engineering. He encouraged students to discuss career options with their professors.

Student Environmental Association member Lyndsey Scofield helped organize the discussion and said she felt it was successful.

“It allows you to really get in contact with the real world,” she said. “Now I know I should probably narrow my focus more, maybe pursue a master’s.”

Jessica Newport, a junior studying environmental policy, said she was encouraged by the speakers despite the possible job shortage. Future environmental crises, such as a possible shortage of potable water, should provide ample employment, she said.

“(The drinking-water issue) will open up a lot of jobs, and I am willing to fill that spot,” she said.