Want to keep your employees around? Help them find 'meaning' in their work.

Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Say what you will about the government's role in creating "clean" or "green" career opportunities, there is a fundamental shift going on in people's attitude about the work they're willing to do. As a manager, you may pooh-pooh this sentiment now, because so many people are out-of-work and you have the upper hand in hiring trends (if you have any jobs open in the first place), but the pendulum will swing the other way. If not now, then when today's 20-somethings start redefining the job market.

As my evidence, I'll cite two very separate sets of data. The first, published in early June by The Pew Charitable Trusts, points to serious growth in the number of jobs that were created in so-called "clean energy" jobs between 1998 and 2007. During that time period, while the pool of traditional jobs grew by about 3.7 percent nationwide, the number of jobs centered on the clean energy economy expanded by 9.1 percent. At the end of the reporting period in 2007, there were roughly 770,000 jobs attributed by Pew to Clean energy roles, compared with about the 1.27 million jobs attributed to the fossil-fuel sector (oil and gas extraction, coal mining and utilities). Annual wages for these clean energy jobs range anywhere from $21,000 to $111,000, the Pew report notes.

What's even more compelling, Pew notes, is that there was about $5.9 billion in venture capital poured into clean energy development in 2008 alone. Incidentally, I have seen way more than press release about such and such executive, with an extensive background in the energy industry, jumping over to the "clean" side. I'm sure that money is only partly to do with it.

Pew reports that clean energy job growth outperformed traditional job growth in 38 states AND the District of Columbia. Some standout states:

  • Texas, which generates more electricity from wind than any other state and had more than 55,000 clean energy jobs in 2007.
  • Tennessee, which is building a reputation as a leader in recycling, waste treatment and water management; clean-energy jobs grew more than 18 percent between 1998 and 2007, compared with 2.5 percent for all other jobs.
  • Ohio, which was among the top five states with the most jobs in clean energy, energy efficiency and environmentally friendly production.

State by state breakdowns of the clean energy jobs environment.

The other set of data has nothing specifically to do with energy or the environment and everything to do with "causes." I noticed a few months back the computer services company CDW had started up a practice focused on addressing the technology needs of non-profits. When I did a little digging, I discovered that there was a veritable explosion in such organizations between 1996 and 2006, with the overall number of non-profits growing by something like 37 percent and the number of private foundations increasing by around 87 percent. Here are some more statistics on non-profit trends.

I am sure there are all sorts of tax reasons for this shift that can be used to explain some or not most of this explosion. However, there are also other reasons, such as the aging/maturing of younger entrepreneurs who have retired from corporate life, but who have plenty of creativity and energy left to focus on building something that could benefit the greater good. One has only to consider the work being done by Microsoft founder Bill Gates for the most high-profile example of what I'm talking about.

Here's the thing: Entrepreneurs are becoming just as likely to start something that is non-profit than it is for-profit. At the very least, more of them are adding some sort of non-profit or sustainable business twist to what they're doing.

The cynical among you are rolling around the floor laughing right now at my naivite, but the buzz/hype around sustainability will absolutely rub off on the psyche of job seekers. When the tide turns and you beging hiring again, your team needs to have a great message about why working at your company is better for society than your competitor. What are you prepared to say?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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