In-Demand Green Jobs in California

portrait of Sharon Wilfong
by Sharon Wilfong
Published on November 18, 2021
Edited by Rebecca Long

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California boasts the lion's share of power production from bioenergy in the U.S. because of the state's large agriculture and forestry industries. In 2020, California's clean energy sector employed around 485,000 workers. Small businesses were the largest sources of green jobs, employing approximately six out of 10 clean energy workers in the state.

The effects of climate change have also spurred greater investments in green industries. In September 2021, Governor Newsom signed the most extensive climate package in California's history. The state plans to invest over $15 billion to combat wildfires and drought and fund sustainable agriculture.

This renewed commitment to sustainability and climate resilience makes California a great place for professionals seeking green careers now and in the future.

What Are Green Jobs?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines green jobs in two ways. Some green jobs focus on production. These positions exist at businesses that produce green goods and services.

Other green careers focus on approach. People in these roles often revise existing processes and practices to be environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

The BLS evaluates jobs based on either category to consider occupations "green." However, there is often overlap.

Why Consider a Green Job in California?

There are pros and cons to working environmental jobs in California. Although the state's high cost of living could be a deterrent, green careers offer the potential for high wages. What's more, the government's increased focus on the environment means more opportunities.

However, during an economic downturn, the number of job openings could decline. Additionally, openings vary depending on the job and company's location within the state. For example, California's Employment Development Department (EDD) projects positions for environmental scientists will grow by nearly 11% between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than the rate of growth across all occupations in the state during the same period. This will create around 1,600 new positions.

But in Kern County, for instance, the growth rate is much lower. The EDD projects 10 new positions will open between 2018 and 2028. Still, compared to other states, there are more opportunities for environmental jobs in California. The state has a long history of being a national leader in implementing climate change policy.

Recent green initiatives focus on directly protecting communities across the state from climate risks.

What Green Jobs Are in Demand in California?


Renewable Energy | Environmental Protection | Recycling | Technology | Governmental and Regulatory Administration


Green Jobs in Renewable Energy

Solar Photovoltaic Installer

Projected Job Growth in California (2018-2028): 65%

Median Annual Salary in California (2020): $41,060

According to the EDD, solar photovoltaic installers are one of the most in-demand jobs in California. The agency projects positions for these professionals will increase 65% between 2018 and 2028, yielding 3,400 new job openings. Solar photovoltaic installers are in demand across industries, a key reason for the growing number of positions.

These solar energy technicians can start their careers without a college degree after some on-the-job training. They learn to assemble, install, and maintain solar-powered systems on roofs or other structures. Professionals must follow the National Electrical Code and local and federal regulations.


Hydrologist

Projected Job Growth in California (2018-2028): 10%

Median Annual Salary in California (2020): $99,220

The EDD projects positions for hydrologists in California will grow by 10% between 2018 and 2028, a faster-than-average growth rate. Also, the BLS says the need for hydrologists is likely to increase nationwide because of climate change between 2020 and 2030.

Hydrologists study how water moves through and over the Earth. They also investigate the effects of rain, snow, and other precipitation on groundwater levels. Additionally, they analyze how water influences the environment and how environmental changes influence the quality and quantity of this resource.


Biochemists and Biophysicists

Projected Job Growth in California (2018-2028): 22%

Median Annual Salary in California (2020): $105,620

There's a significant difference in national projections for biochemists and biophysicists vs. projections for these professionals in California jobs. While the BLS projects slower than average growth for this sector over the next decade, the EDD projects 22% growth for biochemists and biophysicists between 2018 and 2028. There could be as many as 1,300 new job openings for these professionals.

Green careers in biochemistry and biophysics include research in biofuels, a renewable energy source from plants. These professionals also work with waste bioremediation and research manufacturing biodegradable products.


Green Jobs in Environmental Protection

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Projected Job Growth in California (2018-2028): 11%

Median Annual Salary in California (2020): $92,240

The EDD says the median annual wage for environmental scientists in California was over $90,000 in 2021. Plus, the agency projects an 11% growth rate for these professionals between 2018 and 2028, which translates to roughly 1,600 new jobs. This career in sustainability focuses on environmental protection by ensuring compliance with environmental laws and regulations.

Environmental scientists and specialists analyze and develop solutions for environmental problems. The professionals may create plans for reclaiming contaminated lands and waters, for instance. They also conduct research and make recommendations to government and businesses on minimizing environmental impact.


Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Projected Job Growth in the U.S. (2020-2030): 11%

Median Annual Salary in the U.S. (2020): $46,850

Unlike many other green careers, environmental science and protection technicians have a lower projected rate of growth in California than nationally, according to the EDD. The agency projects a 10.8% increase in jobs for these professionals between 2018 and 2028, translating to around 400 new openings.

Environmental science and protection technicians monitor and investigate sources of pollution and contamination. They collect gases, soil, water, and other materials to perform laboratory and field tests. These professionals typically work under the direction of an environmental scientist or specialist.


Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Projected Job Growth in the U.S. (2020-2030): 7%

Median Annual Salary in the U.S. (2020): $64,010

From forest resources management to forestry fire specialists, there are various careers for conservation scientists and foresters. The EDD projects a 15% growth rate for these positions in California between 2018 and 2028.

Conservation scientists and foresters work to manage, improve, and protect natural resources. They may produce soil erosion elimination plans to protect against fires. Additionally, they can be educators who teach crop rotation or terracing for soil and water conservation.


Green Jobs in Recycling

Hand Laborers and Material Movers

Projected Job Growth in the U.S. (2020-2030): 7%

Median Annual Salary in the U.S. (2020): $30,010

The job outlook and wages for refuse and recyclable material collectors in California are higher on average than in the rest of the country. The EDD projects a 10% growth in jobs between 2018 and 2028, equaling around 1,500 new positions. In 2021, the median annual wage for these professionals working in California was about $57,090, much higher than the national median.

Refuse and recyclable material collectors in California typically have assigned routes. They operate commercial trucks that use hydraulic lifts. Collectors may also sort recyclable items, including cans, glass, and plastics, by hand.


Environmental Engineers

Projected Job Growth in California (2018-2028): 8%

Median Annual Salary in California (2020):< $108,600

California might be the best place for civil engineering careers. While the BLS projects below average growth for this occupation between 2020 and 2030, the EDD projects a growth rate of 8% in the state, which translates to the creation of 700 new jobs between 2018 and 2028.

Environmental engineers plan, design, and perform engineering duties to prevent and control environmental hazards. They may focus on the safety of drinking water, waste treatment and disposal, and hazardous substances. Environmental engineers also sometimes design systems to protect the environment.


Industrial Engineers

Projected Job Growth in California (2018-2028): 13%

Median Annual Salary in California (2020): $101,720

Industrial engineering pays well in California. In 2021, the median annual wage for these professionals was about $103,780 in the state. However, the EDD's job growth projections for industrial engineers in California are a bit lower than what the BLS projects nationwide between 2020 and 2030. Still, with a job outlook of nearly 13% growth, there could be approximately 3,700 new openings for industrial engineers in California between 2018 and 2028.

Industrial engineering careers focus on improving work processes and procedures to be more energy-efficient, use fewer natural resources, and produce less waste. Additionally, industrial engineers have technical knowledge and skills that are in demand across multiple industries.


Green Jobs in Technology

Operations Research Analysts

Projected Job Growth in California (2018-2028): 28%

Median Annual Salary in California (2020): $101,160

Operations research analysts are some of the highest-paid and most in-demand professionals in California. The EDD projects a growth rate of roughly 28% for these professionals between 2018 and 2028 in the state. The median annual salary for operations research analysts in California is also higher than the national average at over $100,000.

These professionals use mathematical modeling and other computer-aided methods to develop and interpret information. They typically concentrate on data collection and developing support software. Their data analysis assists with decision-making and policy formulation.


Geoscientists

Projected Job Growth in California (2018-2028): 8%

Median Annual Salary in California 2020: $97,270

Geoscientists can find careers in technology in various sectors, such as environmental protection and preservation. The EDD projects jobs for geoscientists will grow 8% between 2018 and 2028, amounting to the creation of about 400 new positions.

Geoscientists use x-rays and electron microscopes. They also collect data and use geographic information systems (GIS) and modeling software to analyze it. Professionals with geography backgrounds can also find careers as environmental specialists and cartographers for GIS companies.


Electrician

Projected Job Growth in California (2018-2028): 10%

Median Annual Salary in California (2020): $68,530

The job outlook for electricians is good in California, with the EDD projecting nearly 10% growth for these roles between 2018 and 2028. That translates to around 7,500 new jobs. Electricians in California also make more money on average than electricians naturally, with a median annual salary of over $68,000.

Green electricians design and install everything from energy-efficient lighting to programmable thermostats and daylight harvesting solar systems. They work with different types of renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, and geothermal. They may also install electric charging stations.


Green Jobs in Governmental and Regulatory Administration

Urban and Regional Planners

Projected Job Growth in California (2018-2028): 10%

Median Annual Salary in California (2020): $92,960

The EDD says positions available for urban and regional planners in California generally fluctuate according to the economy. Consequently, workers may have periods of unemployment. However, job openings for urban and regional planners are projected to grow 10% between 2018 and 2028.

A science and engineering career in urban planning offers an opportunity to work in public transportation and public housing. Urban and regional planners serve in environmental capacities, working with land developers, civic leaders, and public officials. Their work may include short- or long-term planning.


Agricultural and Food Scientists

Projected Job Growth in the U.S. (2020-2030): 9%

Median Annual Salary in the U.S. (2020): $68,830

The EDD projects new positions for soil and plant scientists in California will grow by 15.2% between 2018 and 2028, much higher than the national growth rate between 2020 and 2030. The agency points out that approximately one-third of professionals will work for colleges or federal, state, or local government agencies.

Some soil and plant scientists, biologists, and chemists collaborate to develop processes for turning crops into energy sources. Other biotechnology career options focus on regulations or finding new ways to manage resources.


Management Analysts

Projected Job Growth in California (2018-2028): 14%

Median Annual Salary in California (2020): $87,510

Data science careers, including analyst positions, are available across industries. For example, analysts can specialize as environmental compliance officers. According to CareerOneStop, roles for management analysts will increase by 14% in California between 2018 and 2028, amounting to over 15,430 new positions each year.

Environmental compliance inspectors investigate sources of pollution, collect and analyze data from field sources, and ensure proper handling and storage of hazardous chemicals. Additionally, they inspect industrial and commercial facilities to ensure they're complying with laws, regulations, and permits.

Frequently Asked Questions About Green Jobs in California

What are the top five cities for green jobs?

According to E2's report on clean jobs in California, around 80% of the state's clean energy jobs are in the state's largest metro areas. California's top five cities for green jobs are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Riverside, San Jose, and Sacramento. Including San Diego, these six areas account for approximately 100,000 jobs.

But green jobs are increasingly available throughout the state., Even rural areas and smaller communities need workers who know how to make energy efficiency upgrades and modernize power grids.

Which city is the greenest in the U.S.?

WalletHub compared America's 100 largest cities using 28 key indicators, from green jobs to energy policies and initiatives. The survey compared the 100 most populated cities for environment, transportation, energy sources, lifestyle, and policy. San Diego was ranked the greenest city in the U.S. in 2021.

San Francisco came in second, and Irvine came in fourth. Green practices, such as clean energy, recycling programs, and urban agriculture, help make green cities.

Where is the most eco-friendly place to live in the US?

If you do a quick internet search for the most eco-friendly places to live in the U.S., you will find many cities in California make the list, including San Diego and San Francisco. However, "eco-friendly" can be a vague and subjective term. To that end, there are several factors to consider when determining the most eco-friendly place to live in the U.S.

Perhaps one of the top indicators is gas emissions per capita. WalletHub's comparison revealed that Oakland and San Bernardino, California, ranked highly in that category. So did Reno, Nevada, and Virginia Beach, Virginia. San Francisco came in number three overall for the lowest percentage of commuters who drive.

Is it hard to get a job in California?

Yes, it can be difficult to secure a job in California. The state has the largest labor force in the U.S. That means there's a lot of competition. But experience and education can make a candidate stand out from the rest.

According to the BLS, in September 2021, the state's unemployment rate was 7.5%, tied with Nevada for the highest in the nation. The EDD's 2018-2028 job projections did not factor in COVID-19's effect on employment. However, since the pandemic may cause structural changes to the economy, new employment projections will incorporate those changes as the data becomes available.

What jobs are in demand in California?

According to the EDD, California averaged approximately 101,500 monthly job gains in employment recovery between February 2021 and September 2021. Solar photovoltaic installer is the fastest-growing occupation in the state, with a 65% projected growth rate between 2018 and 2028. Occupational therapy assistants, statisticians, and physician assistants are also in the top five.

Biochemists, biological scientists, and technicians were among the other green jobs that made the top 100 fastest-growing occupations in California. Conservation scientists landed at number 100 on the list, with 300 new job openings projected between 2018 and 2028.

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