Big Tech is laying staff off, but climate tech is hiring

Dec 08, 2022 4 mins

Big Tech is laying staff off, but climate tech is hiring
author
Ula Chrobak

Ula Chrobak is a freelance journalist based in Nevada. You can see more of her work at https://www.ulachrobak.com/

After 30 years working in the area of cybersecurity and software engineering, Jean-Francois Déchant was ready to take it easy. His plan was to be a business angel, meeting with startup founders and helping them to fund and grow their companies. At first, that was the role he played at Elicit Plant, an agri-biotech startup focused on developing crops that are more resilient in the face of water shortages. But then the founders asked him to be the chief executive – and he accepted. “Initially, it was not in my plans, but the project was so powerful and so promising that I said yes,” he says, adding that he realized he could make an impact on agriculture, which is something that all of humanity needs if it is to produce enough food.

Déchant is just one of many tech workers leaving traditional tech companies for mission-driven climate opportunities. It’s a growing movement as tech workers start to prize not just a dependable paycheck, but having a sense of purpose at work as well. Among these is Orinayo Ayodele, a program manager at Filecoin Green, a company that aims to measure and cut the greenhouse gas emissions associated with cryptocurrency. “I almost feel like I’m at the forefront of climate change, we really get to be in these conversations,” she says.

A cooling market

Big Tech has been losing its appeal for some time now and the industry doesn’t appear to be as dependable as it once was. Many large tech companies — such as Amazon, Meta and Robinhood — have announced layoffs in the past few months. Most of those companies are seeing their stock value drop too as interest rates rise and the economy tips toward a slowdown.

Meanwhile, more and more tech workers are eyeing jobs in the climate tech sector. The variety of opportunities is part of the draw as the industry covers everything from battery storage to biofuels to energy efficiency. This is also a sector that is developing rapidly, meaning that there are increasing numbers of ways to get involved.

While little research exists specifically on climate tech jobs, the overall clean energy economy is gaining jobs. Between 2019 and 2021, nearly all the growth in energy jobs globally was concentrated in the clean energy sector, according to a report by the International Energy Agency. The same report found that the world will need 14 million more clean energy jobs by 2050 in order to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

An investment boom

Despite signs of a market downturn and the cryptocurrency crash, climate tech is going strong. According to the Climate Tech VC newsletter, $94 billion has been invested in private climate tech assets since January 2021, with $34 billion available to fund new climate companies. “The capital is still coming in,” says Jesse Hynes, a cofounder of Climatebase, a jobs website focused on climate tech and nonprofit opportunities. “It doesn’t seem like it’s slowing down, which is really exciting to see.” Hynes adds that nearly 45,000 jobs have been posted at Climatebase in the two years since it launched.

Public funding is also boosting climate tech. In the United States, the recently-passed Inflation Reduction Act directs almost $370 billion in funding and tax credits towards tackling climate change through the development of sustainable batteries, solar energy, and direct air carbon removal. Thanks to the act, carbon capture companies can get tax credits of up to $180 per ton of CO2 removed, for example.

There’s plenty of room for growth and new ideas in the climate tech industry, according to Ayodele. “I think that is why I love being in this space, because it’s not a competition, we have to make sure that those who are working in all different sorts of sectors in this industry are brought along,” he says.

Déchant agrees. “There is a strong convergence of big players, small players, medium players, and startups going on the same journey,” he says, adding that older workers in the chemical industry are interested in switching to ag tech companies like his too.

The climate career generation

The younger generation seems poised to keep up the momentum. Some surveys suggest that Gen Z workers are more mission-driven, placing a greater emphasis than older generations on finding a workplace that aligns with their values. Gen Z also seems to be more concerned about climate change than others.

Even with all this interest, though, some may feel daunted about shifting career gears to focus on climate, especially if they don’t have technical climate expertise. They shouldn’t worry, according to Hynes, who says a lack of formal climate education is not a barrier. “The truth of the matter is everyone has a role to play,” he says. In an analysis of job postings on Climatebase, his team found that the most common positions included software engineer, business development, sales, and finance roles. These skills can transfer easily from another industry.

That said, it helps to have a demonstrated interest in climate change. Hynes adds that doing some research on the focus area of a climate tech company targeted can boost the chances of job seekers to get the role. “Employers are always looking for people who are mission-driven, and just showing that you’re interested in climate, that’s really important for an organization,” he says. For job seekers interested in learning more about the climate tech landscape and where their skills might fit in, he suggests Climatebase’s fellowship program.

This is an ideal time to marry tech skills with a role in the climate sector, according to Ayodele. “In this age that we’re in, we can really bring these two together,” says Ayodele. “Lots of people are transitioning into this space at the moment, so it’s great, because you also have people from all sorts of backgrounds coming into this space.”

It won’t necessarily involve a pay cut either, says Hynes. “[Climate tech companies] have capital, and they’re willing to pay to get some of that top talent, which is really great for job seekers, because it means that you can still get a really high paying job, and then be able to work in an organization that you’re truly passionate about,” he says. So you can follow your passion and still make a great living. Isn’t that the dream for so many of us?

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