By Heather O'Neill
January 25, 2010
If you are looking for a cool career but just can't stomach the idea of spending your day cooped up in an office, working outdoors might be the right choice for you. While construction jobs are among the more obvious ways to make good money outside of four walls, there are many other growing opportunities for fresh air employment.
President Barack Obama has pledged to invest $150 billion over the next 10 years to advance green jobs, a boon for anyone with the desire to work outdoors. The areas that the President is emphasizing include creating the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, the development of commercial scale renewable energy, and the building of low emissions coal plants, all projects that will require an outdoor workforce to complete.
Don't see the potential for green initiatives to increase the outdoor workforce yet? In addition to other projects, Obama has proposed a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that will require 25 percent of American electricity be derived from renewable sources by 2025, which alone has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
Another Obama proposal is an extension of the Production Tax Credit, a credit used by American farmers and investors to increase renewable energy production and create new local jobs.
Regardless of your political affiliation, the message is clear: Outdoor careers are a viable way to earn a living. Whether you want a job with great growth potential, a job that is off the beaten path or one that is just plain fun, there is truly something for everyone. We've compiled a list of great outdoor jobs and have organized a handy guide for those interested in these types of careers.
Outdoor Careers with Growth Potential
With Obama encouraging industry to go green, outdoor jobs in the environmental sector are showing a tremendous amount of growth potential over the next 10 years.
Job opportunities for environmental engineers (#38) are expected to increase over 30 percent -- much faster than the national average -- in the coming years, which is to be expected given the broad range of topics the career can cover.
Environmental engineers use the principles of biology and chemistry to develop solutions to local and worldwide environmental problems. They can be involved in finding solutions for water and air pollution control, recycling, waste disposal, and public health issues. From acid rain to global warming, automobile emissions to ozone depletion, the breadth of opportunity for environmental engineers to make their mark in the green sector is limitless.
You do need an education to work in this field, however. A bachelor's degree in engineering is required for almost all entry-level engineering jobs. College graduates with a degree in a natural science or mathematics may occasionally qualify for some engineering jobs, though most engineering degrees are granted in electrical and electronics engineering, mechanical engineering, and civil engineering.
However, engineers trained in one branch may work in related branches. In addition to a degree, all 50 states and the District of Columbia require licensure for engineers who offer their services directly to the public. The upside to all of this schooling? The median annual income for an environmental engineer is $74,000
But it isn't strictly green jobs that have major growth potential. The demand for surveyors (#3), whose job it is to establish official land, airspace, and water boundaries, are expected to grow quickly this decade. Some surveyors write descriptions of land for deeds, leases, and other legal documents; define airspace for airports; and take measurements of construction and mineral sites, while others provide data about the shape, contour, location, elevation, or dimension of land or land features.
Surveyors, who earn an average of $51,000, must be licensed and most have a bachelor's degree in surveying or a related field.
Fun in the Great Outdoors
If you are more comfortable on the water than on land, a solid income can be made as a fish and game warden (#12). Essentially the police force for the fishing and hunting industry, a fish and game warden patrols lakes, rivers, beaches, wetlands, coastlines, deserts and the backcountry to enforce the fish and wildlife code in their state.
They also and enforce all federal and state boating, hunting and fishing laws, conduct search and rescue and respond to reports of crimes or accidents related to hunting and fishing. They may also be called to testify in court on related matters.
A fish and game warden's salary depends greatly on rank, the size of the community in which they work, and whether they are local, state or federal employees. While it is possible to become a fish and game warden with only a high school diploma, a college degree in biology, environmental sciences or criminal justice is encouraged. The median salary for all fish and game wardens (federal, state and local levels) is $48,930.
Don't want to go back for a secondary degree? Electrical power-line installers and repairers (#4) can make good money without a college education. While the work can be extremely demanding physically, the median salary for electrical power-line installers and repairers hovered at just over $55,000 a year, with those on the higher end of the pay scale earning close to $85,000.
Most line workers have a specialty, but as a rule the requirements for employment are a high school diploma or GED and a basic knowledge of algebra and trigonometry plus good reading and writing skills. Growth in this line of work is expected to increase thanks to the expected retirement of many current power-line installers this decade.
Off the Beaten Path
If you are looking for an unusual job, there are plenty to be had in the outdoor sector.
Ready to investigate your options? Consider being a private detective (#66). Private detectives are sleuths employed to assist individuals, businesses, and attorneys in finding and analyzing information on legal, financial, or personal matters. Often out of the office and working unusual hours, the work of private detectives and investigators can include many facets, including background checks and the investigating of computer crimes. They also frequently provide assistance in criminal and civil liability cases, insurance claims and fraud cases, child custody and protection cases and missing-persons cases.
Unlike many professions, legally there are no formal education requirements for most private detective positions. Many do, however, hold postsecondary degrees in criminal justice and police science, and past experience in police investigation is viewed has being helpful in this field. The median annual income of a salaried private detective is $41,760.
It really is a jungle out there when you are a zoologist or wildlife biologist (#44). The duties of biological scientists, namely zoologists and wildlife biologists, require some lab work but many can be true outdoor jobs. Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and wildlife, focusing on the origin, behavior, diseases, and life processes of animals and wildlife, both in the wild and in the lab.
Depending on the position, some people in this field study and experiment with live animals in controlled or natural surroundings, while others dissect dead animals to study their structure, and are usually identified by the animal group they study. For example, ornithologists study birds, while mammalogists study mammals.
Positions are available to those with a master's or bachelor's degree in the field, though most biological scientists need a Ph.D. in biology or one of its subfields to work in independent research or development positions. The median annual wages of zoologists and wildlife biologists were $55,290 in 2008.