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Retooling the Work Force for a Green Economy

Companies and communities need to work together to satisfy the need for workers with "green knowledge."

June/July 09
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.

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