By 2020, I had devoted fifteen years to developing my software career, the last seven and a half of which consisted of my dream job at Google, working on some of the world’s most advanced big data and AI systems. At the same time, I had also been getting increasingly more alarmed about the climate crisis. After watching An Inconvenient Truth, speaking with climate scientists, and hearing Greta Thunberg I felt that this problem was, beyond any comparison, the most important issue facing humanity, and that fixing it was the only thing that mattered.
Then the COVID pandemic hit, forcing many of us to confront the dissonance between what we truly value and what we spend our time and talents on. I was no exception, and working on an open-source medical device project during the first months of the pandemic gave me a taste of what it could be like to not have this dissonance – there was no going back from this feeling.
The final piece of the puzzle clicked into place when I reconnected with my coworker Cass. Reinforced by mutual support, within a week our conversations turned from “let’s exchange notes on what we’re doing about climate change” to handing in our resignations. We didn’t have a plan, but we knew that we couldn’t keep working on anything other than climate.
As it turned out, we were not alone. My goodbye post went viral on LinkedIn, and all of a sudden, we were talking to hundreds of people saying, “I want to work on climate, but I don’t know where to start, or if I’m even needed.”
Our answer: Yes, you are needed!
To solve climate change, we need to rebuild every single industry on a global scale. We have to transition from dirty to clean energy, from animal to plant protein, from individual gas-powered vehicles to a combination of electric vehicles and excellent public transportation, and so on. We also need to bring a few young industries to maturity and scale – such as coastal resilience and carbon markets.
The IPCC estimates that it will take between 3% and 6% of the world’s GDP to realize this transition. This amounts to several trillion dollars annually, and the investment is beginning to come in, both in the venture [PWC] and public funding ecosystems [IRA].
So, if the investment is flowing, and the strategy is clear, what’s missing?
The people. In order to achieve this massive transition, an equally massive number of people (in the hundreds of millions) across all industries needs to be working on it – learning new skills, starting new companies, reshaping existing companies, and finding new jobs.
The good news is that a lot of the people with the necessary skills already exist. For example, food industry professionals could facilitate the transition to plant-based proteins and the reduction of food waste, farmers could be deploying resilient and regenerative agriculture, and accounting and operations professionals are necessary for nearly every business transaction involved in the transition.
The bad news is that, while people with the necessary skills already exist, most of them aren’t currently working on building climate solutions. Every sector will need to transform itself, but right now the majority of the workforce is still concentrated in the incumbent industries of these sectors. Moreover, many necessary skills are in short supply – whole sectors integral to the transition are already facing labor shortages or are about to run out.
For example, there already simply aren’t enough battery experts [Voltaiq], engineers [Clean Energy Wire], electricians [WaPo], corporate sustainability talent [Fortune], or board members with climate expertise [FT]. And the shortages are getting worse as the climate industry rapidly scales.
Why is that?
The workforce is a product of the talent ecosystem: schools, job boards, conferences, unions, recruiting agencies, government bodies (such as departments of labor and education), continuing education and internal corporate training programs, etc.
Sadly, today’s talent ecosystem is not up to the task: most of the time, it leaves people unprepared to help build our climate-positive future, or even convinced that they have nothing to contribute. For example, think of your own career path (Image 1): did your accounting class teach carbon accounting? Did your AI class teach geospatial AI? Did you meet any climate companies at a conference in your industry? Was it easy for you to identify climate jobs on a job board? For most people, the answer to all of these questions is currently “no.”
This creates a paradox: climate companies overwhelmingly cite talent as a major bottleneck [Endeavor]; at the same time, even people who are greatly alarmed about climate are generally unaware that they could work for these companies, stereotype them as unfit for their career goals, or were never exposed to opportunities to learn the necessary additional skills in their role for building climate solutions.
“For me, like I think many others as well, climate change seems like a field that just isn’t very related to Software Developers.”A comment on my original post
“Sure, yet not everyone has the privilege of not working for money’s sake.”A comment on my original post
“I don’t think I appreciated how long it would take to find a new role… I didn’t anticipate how things like anxiety and other elements might be stumbling blocks in the process.”Jennifer Anderson, Carbon Removal Geologist (transitioned out of the Oil & Gas industry)
This is what Work On Climate is here to meet. Our community addresses the urgent symptoms of this problem by helping active climate jobseekers and founders. We are joined on this quest by our respected peers, such as MCJ, Terra.do, Climate Draft, Climatebase, Drawdown Labs, and others.
However, we believe that the only way to solve the climate talent bottleneck at the necessary scale is to tackle its root cause in the talent ecosystem. The future of Work On Climate is focused on precisely that.
The community is our tool of choice for helping people who are ready to jump in. We run events where people meet climate employers, experts, jobseekers like themselves, individuals who have found a job and share their tips, and more. We run a mentorship program where people can talk to an expert and learn how their skills are useful in climate. We run many sub-communities providing targeted support for people in different roles, sectors of climate, and geographical locations. The common theme throughout all our programs is helping people help each other.
Our programs allow people to build the trust necessary to work together, quickly gain knowledge within this rapidly growing field, and receive the support they need to find themselves in the space, instead of getting overwhelmed and abandoning the search.
We are now 20,000+ members strong, with people from all walks of life: from students to executives and artists to chemical engineers, spread all over the globe. We estimate that we have helped over 2,000 people find climate jobs and employees, start climate companies, meet mentors, investors, LPs, advisors, customers, and more. Learn more about our impact in 2022.
“Today is my last day in the health tech industry, and I’m really excited to be joining the climate space! I’ll be sharing out where I’ve landed in the coming weeks, but Work on Climate helped me to find this company and I’m absolutely thrilled to be joining them soon! Big thanks to Work on Climate for making it easy to connect to this community!”Vic de Aranzeta, Senior Product Designer, NCX
“We met on Work On Climate that has helped us find each other and start Aigen! We’re building a robotics platform to replace fossil fuels and pesticides at scale. And thanks to Work On Climate, we recently raised $7M in funding to kick off our mission!”Rich Wurden and Kenny Lee, co-founders, Aigen
However, this is merely the beginning.
To build the massive workforce required to solve climate change, we cannot limit our impact to only those who are already looking for climate work. We must tackle the root cause of the problem and rapidly make our talent ecosystem, as a whole, climate-ready.
Why do we need to target the talent ecosystem as a whole, rather than focusing on helping active climate jobseekers and founders? Because we need to bring hundreds of millions of people into the climate workforce across all industries and roles. For the absolute majority of them, their climate job will be just a job. Rather than something they choose because of their passion for the cause, it will be something they choose simply because it’s a good job that they were trained for.
But if these are good jobs, won’t the market solve this? Potentially, yes, but realistically, not nearly fast enough. It took 40 years before the famously fast-growing software industry grew to 25M people – with climate, we have 7-10 years to grow to ten times that size. We need to build the climate workforce an order of magnitude faster than any industry in history has built a workforce.
In other words, we need to rapidly make climate work mainstream. What might this look like? Imagine if every part of the talent ecosystem prepared people to participate in the future green economy.
For example, imagine if, as an operations professional browsing a job board like LinkedIn or ZipRecruiter, you saw operations jobs at companies deploying climate solutions highlighted for you. Imagine if, as a food industry professional, your school had taught you about plant-based protein ingredients, your marketing class taught you about how to sell green products, and at an industry conference you met companies working on these products and hiring people like yourself (Image 2).
The mainstream career ecosystem already has massive power and reaches billions of people. When we enlist its help, we will be able to build the climate workforce and deploy climate solutions effectively.
The good news is that the organizations whose help we need already have a strong incentive: there is a lot of money for them to be made by educating and moving hundreds of millions of people into new jobs. The bad news is that we have very little time, while many of them are notoriously slow to change and are themselves ill-equipped to handle this transition.
Work On Climate is here to make this change happen quickly, and here’s how.
To engage the workforce in building climate solutions en masse, Work On Climate is building the missing piece of the climate puzzle – a climate movement in the talent ecosystem.
We are the first organization to focus on the full scale of the climate workforce transition, and we believe that ecosystem-scale movement-building is the right approach for this monumental challenge.
Our endeavor to create this movement consists of three stages (Image 3):
At the moment, we are in Stage 2: we are beginning to accumulate partnerships with communities and organizations in the mainstream talent ecosystem. Here are just a few of our successes and active projects to date:
Over the next 1-2 years we plan to build several dozen such partnerships. As our partnerships grow in number and become more streamlined, opportunities will begin to emerge for coordinating collaboration between our partners and for enlisting new partners into the network with minimal to no effort. Then we will enter Stage 3, focusing our role on being the communication fabric and growth engine behind this movement.
In Stage 3 we will transition from being the hub of dozens of partnerships to being the network coordinator behind thousands of talent ecosystem organizations and government bodies partnering and learning from each other. Our work will be focused on organizing conventions between these organizations, organizing their shared knowledge, and conducting mass-scale advocacy for other organizations to join the network (both ourselves and with the aid of our partners).
In other words, we are evolving from a central community into a movement network.
As a result of Stage 3, supporting the new climate-positive economy will become ubiquitous among organizations in the talent ecosystem, together affecting the skills and career paths of the entire workforce. Equipped with the necessary knowledge, partnerships and incentives, they will bring hundreds of millions of people into careers focused on inventing and deploying climate solutions in every industry.
We believe that human ingenuity is boundless, and there is nothing we cannot solve when we focus on the right problems. With the combined talent and labor of hundreds of millions of people, we will rebuild our economy and create a climate-positive future.
Our approach is inspired by techniques described in a book called Impact Networks and the many successes it cites: for example, the 100Kin10 network applied a similar approach to training 100,000 STEM teachers in the US and hit their goals (they are now known as Beyond100k).
Our focus for 2023 is rooted in strengthening the community, building out the critical mass of Hub partnerships, and conducting research:
We will need your help to do this fast enough to keep up with the skyrocketing talent demands of the climate solutions ecosystem. We are raising major funding to fill several top leadership roles with full-time staff, and recruiting for open roles on our all-star volunteer team.
If you are inspired by our mission, you can support us by making a tax-deductible donation through our website or through your DAF (we are a 501(c)(3) non-profit registered as Work On Climate, EIN 87-1756849). You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to learn more about our strategy and budget before considering a contribution.