From the construction of solar panels and wind-powered turbines to community weatherization programs, economists say that large-scale green projects have the potential to create millions of jobs around the country. With almost $17 billion of stimulus money headed towards improving energy efficiency and investing in green transportation and improvements, site selectors and area developers are eagerly awaiting the growth of the green economy.
Green work force development will likely be a hot topic in the coming years, but experts say that many workers already have the skills to work in green industries. By taking advantage of transferable skills, creating collaborative efforts with trade schools, and creating a flexible work force, many may find that preparing the work force for the green economy isn't necessarily a monumental task.
Defining Green Jobs and Skills
Because green jobs and industries can span the spectrum from solar and wind power to corporate departments that simply involve creating efficiencies, there are a number of different definitions of what exactly constitutes a "green job." Work force development consultant, author, and trainer Jim Cassio says that green jobs are typically ones that help provide products and services that use renewable energy resources, reduce pollutants, conserve energy and natural resources, and reconstitute waste. Cassio says that definition, which comes from the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, is one of the only official working definitions of a green job.
"There are dozens of organizations that have tried to define green jobs, but it seems to mean something different to everyone. Some people define them inclusively, and other people have very narrow visions of what a green job is or should be," Cassio explains.
Cassio says one of the more common pictures of green jobs includes blue-collar skilled trades that have a "green tint" to them. This includes electricians, welders, and mechanics who work on wind turbines, or carpenters and insulators that build energy-efficient homes or weatherize older homes. With more green products and services coming into the market everyday, many tradespeople are finding their skills are needed in constructing green products and performing green services. Therefore, green jobs generally fall under two categories: the energy efficiency sector (EE) and the renewable energy (RE) sector.
"Green jobs are found across the whole spectrum of industries and sectors. They vary and you just have to look beneath the surface at whether the job is actually improving, protecting, or preserving the environment in some way," Cassio concludes.
Which Sectors Will Grow?
A significant part of the current economic stimulus plan calls for the creation of green jobs and industries to help put people back to work and spark economic growth. Billions of dollars have been allocated for renewable energy projects, green companies, and other initiatives, including $5 billion for low-income weatherization programs, $2 billion for electric car research, $4 billion to retrofit public housing, and $500 million for green job training.
The American Wind Energy and the Solar Energy Industries associations estimate that there are already more than 200,000 people employed in everything from installing solar panels to constructing wind farms. And while green jobs encompass a wide range of industries, it is estimated that the largest job growth over the next few years will come from those industries directly involved in reducing energy consumption. In 2007, there were an estimated 3.8 million Americans employed in energy-efficiency jobs.
Carl Van Horn is a professor of Public Policy and director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. The center recently published "Preparing the Workforce for a `Green Jobs' Economy," a research brief that can serve as a basic blueprint for community developers. Van Horn notes that roughly 80 percent of green jobs are now in the energy-efficiency sector, but as solar and wind projects continue to expand, there will be a lot more job growth in those industries.
When he campaigned for president, Barack Obama supported a goal of having 25 percent of the nation's energy coming from renewable resources by 2025. The Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics and the World Resources Institute estimate that 30,100 jobs could be created for every billion dollars invested in clean energy, and the Center for American Progress believes that $100 billion in green economic investment could grow into two million new jobs in two years.
Layers of "Green Knowledge"
Van Horn says that one of the best things about building the green economy is that most jobs will not require much additional training: "In many of these jobs, the fundamental and foundational skills are already there. There are just additional `green layers' and additional skills that need to be added for some. An electrician would understand how to wire and install a solar panel device, but he just might not understand where the best location might be," explains Van Horn.
First and foremost, workers employed in green industries - whether they be electricians and plumbers or accountants and scientists - will need to have the basic skills and traditional competencies. That additional layer of green knowledge can either be learned in tandem or after leaning the core skills. Some green jobs, such as manufacturing workers in a solar panel factory, may not even need any particular green knowledge. Entry-level workers, e.g., those working with caulking and insulation for weatherization programs, may need little more than a few days of training in basic construction skills.
Nevertheless, across the country, a number of colleges and trade schools are offering credentials, degrees, and certificates, including the Photovoltaic Installer Certificate from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners and a bachelor's degree in Sustainable Management from the University of Wisconsin. And Michigan's Delta College is offering an associate's degree in chemical process technology. The program is geared toward helping companies in the growing solar industry like Hemlock Semiconductor meet their future work force needs. Other common certifications are available from the Building Performance Institute, the Association of Energy Engineers, Solar Energy International, and the Green Building Certification Institute.
"There is going to be demand for a number of highly educated divisions, from the invention-level Ph.D.s and engineers down to the more entry-level like building designers or architects," says Van Horn.
One of the ways communities can prepare for green jobs in the emerging energy economy is to build a coordinated, flexible work-force-development infrastructure. This includes using federal and state public policy as a roadmap, building partnerships with employers and labor unions, and developing a green jobs work force collaborative. Two such examples of collaborative efforts include the Los Angeles Infrastructure and Sustainable Jobs Collaborative and the New Jersey TLD Talent Network.
The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development reports that the key elements of effective talent networks include identification of assets, the cultivation of career pathways, aligning green jobs work force training efforts with economic development initiatives, and not duplicating training or curricula. Because the green industry is still in its infancy of developing set educational standards and career paths, communities will have to rely on flexibility as a way to capitalize on green industry growth.
Rockford, Ill., is one such town that has found great success with green industry and a flexible work force. Plugging a gap in the decline of manufacturing, the town recently landed a deal with the Chinese Wanxiang Group Co. to build a 40,000-square-foot solar panel assembly plant. The first phase of the project is expected to employ up to 60 full time workers with salaries between $40,000 and $70,000. If successful, the operation has the capacity to increase its size to 160,000 square feet and 240 employees. Eric Voyles, vice president of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, says a long-term relationship with Chinese companies and a concentration of highly skilled workers helped them win the plant. Wanxiang received 10 acres of land at no cost on which to build the plant and will also receive tax breaks of up to $1.2 million over the next 15 years. Voyles says landing the plant was a milestone, but only the beginning of what green industry could do for the region.
"We have several green initiatives that are moving forward and it's all about jobs for us. It allows us to take advantage of the strengths that we already have. Rockford is already a leader in manufacturing and [having workers who already understand manufacturing] means a company can come into this market and quickly be running and profitable," explains Voyles.
As many green jobs in the coming years will most likely be concentrated in construction and manufacturing, many blue-collar skilled trades workers can be easily retrained to move into such fields. Using transferable skills to hop into green jobs and industries is an idea that sounds great to communities that have experienced big job losses in manufacturing.
Ray Miller, an adjunct assistant professor and Superintendent of Utilities at the University of Cincinnati, says that Ohio has had success by jumping into the green field early on. In 2008, as part of the $1.7 billion Building Ohio Jobs plan, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland called for $250 million to invest in wind and solar energy and efficiency; $400 million to clean up polluted sites and preserve open space; $150 million to help trucks, trains, and ships move more efficiently; and $200 million to redevelop downtown neighborhoods. Encompassing everything from block grants for weatherization of inner city homes to installation of solar panels, the initiatives have thus far been successful at putting people back to work without much retraining.
"Ohio still has a solid core of manufacturing capacity. There are a lot of experienced machinists, fabricators. There are companies that may have downsized but have the ability to make anything anyone wants to make. It's an opportunity to retool Ohio's manufacturing base to get into the green technologies," says Miller.
Partnering with workers' unions and organizations may also be another good tactic for preparing the work force. The Blue Green Alliance is a national partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to expanding green jobs and industry. Executive Director David Foster says that all of the organizations involved nationwide account for more than 6.5 million members.
Foster also believes that most of the jobs that could be created in the green economy require very little additional training for skilled tradespeople. Electricians, pipe fitters, carpenters, truck drivers, steel workers, welders, and electrical engineers can jump into many green jobs without much, if any, additional training. The Blue Green Alliance conducted a study of the six biggest solutions to global warming and identified 60 job categories that would be needed in large numbers by the transformation of the economy. Some of those included truck drivers, building inspectors, roofers, construction managers, metal fabricators, production helpers, dispatchers, machinists, and equipment operators.
Building the Human Infrastructure
Foster explains that one of the advantages of the growth of a green economy is the creation of other jobs for entry-level workers. Creating a whole new generation of jobs for people who might have been previously marginalized in the job market means that short-term training projects for new and entry-level jobs will be critical in building the human infrastructure. One of the projects that the Blue Green Alliance is working on is in the weatherization industry, where it can use its existing training centers to create four- to six-week programs that teach people the basic skills to work in residential weatherization. Some trade schools and community colleges are already offering programs, such as the Pennsylvania College of Technology, which offers courses on everything from home energy auditing and weatherization tactics to management of weatherization crews.
Professor Miller also says that one thing many people aren't talking about is the lack of skilled tradespeople in general. As many baby-boomers are entering retirement, some industries will have 50-70 percent of their work forces at retirement age in the next three or four years. Over the past couple of decades, the push to drive many students into college has left a void in the trade schools and fewer students willing to work blue-collar jobs. As manufacturing of solar panels and wind-powered turbines grows, those companies will likely be looking for areas that have concentrations of skilled workers. Hence, it's time to retool the work force.