A PLANET DETROIT GREEN JOBS GUIDE: There’s high demand for workers to fill green transportation jobs right now, driven largely by the growing demand for EVs.
Electric vehicles have been a popular topic of conversation in recent years. But Detroit native Q Johnson said he’s known they were the future since he left his job making prototype vehicles at Ford in 2006.
“It sounded totally crazy then, but now look at it,” Johnson said. “Seventeen years later, this is where everything is going.”
Johnson is just one of many Detroiters who’ve found rewarding careers in the rapidly growing field of green transportation. After leaving Ford, Johnson worked for several EV-related startups, gaining firsthand knowledge of the field he now leverages as an entrepreneur.
Three years ago he started PlugZen, a Southwest Detroit-based EV charging company. The company will install its first EVALL charging station, which allows up to 10 vehicles to charge on the same circuit this summer.
Johnson said he’s glad he “threw all [his] eggs in one basket” when he got into green transportation. He’s excited about the environmental impact of his work, and hopes to see the U.S. increase its renewable energy usage.
He said the green transportation field is accessible to career-seekers who share his passion. Johnson pursued a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan-Dearborn but was hired at Ford before completing it. His formal education ended there, and he’s since become an EV expert through firsthand work in the field.
Johnson said there are “many avenues” for job-seekers to get into green transportation careers.
“The potential for growth right now is astronomical, but you’ve got to find the right fit for you,” he said.
If you’re thinking about following in Johnson’s footsteps to pursue a career in green transportation, the sector offers numerous training and entry-level job opportunities with significant potential for advancement in Metro Detroit and beyond.
In this Planet Detroit Climate Guide, we’ll dig into some common questions about this growing field.
What is a green transportation job?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines green jobs as jobs that “produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources” or jobs that involve making businesses’ “production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.” Accordingly, the specific area of green transportation jobs can encompass various fields.
“We think it’s any form of sustainable transportation that is either reducing carbon emissions or is net zero, all the way down to walking,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of auto industry advocacy organization MICHauto. “[That includes] traditional vehicles, but we’re working right now with off-road recreational vehicles, ATVs, snowmobiles, and then you get to motorcycles and electric bikes and bikes and walking. They’re all green transportation forms.”
By this definition, someone who works on planning or building sidewalks or other new pedestrian infrastructure holds a green transportation job. But one of the fastest-growing subsets of green transportation jobs are those related to manufacturing and powering electric vehicles (EVs), including hybrid and battery-powered passenger, commercial, and public transit vehicles.
Here in Detroit, some of our biggest employers – and some of the biggest employers in the country – are working to reposition themselves as green transportation employers with a heavy emphasis on EVs. Stevens notes that Detroit’s Big Three and other automakers, once viewed primarily as contributors to environmental problems have invested heavily in pursuing a greener future. GM has set a goal of zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion; Ford is pursuing carbon neutrality by 2050; and Stellantis is targeting net-zero emissions by 2038.
“Most of these companies don’t even want to be referred to as automotive companies,” Stevens said. “They want to be referred to as tech companies, which you could argue they are when you look at the sustainability and digitalization of the vehicles.”