Redefining Green Jobs

Last week, I got a call from a national news organization who wanted me to come on live

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TV to comment on David Brooks’ New York Times article “Where the Jobs Aren’t”. Unfortunately I missed the opportunity but after reading Mr. Brooks article, I felt I had to respond. The biggest problem with green jobs is not their availability but the definition of “green jobs”. Here is my definition of green jobs :

“Green, environmental and infrastructure jobs are those jobs which improve the quality of life (economics, energy and infrastructure), restore the environment and lessen environmental impacts through technology, conservation and recycling of resources.”

Green Jobs Are More Than Clean Energy Technology

In his article, Mr. Brooks asserted that green jobs and green energy jobs are synonymous and pointed out how some government sponsored green energy programs have failed to create the jobs promised by the President. While I support Mr. Brooks’ comments on his specific points, I felt it necessary to explain to the public that green jobs are more than green (or clean) energy technology. Green jobs encompass myriad career fields across the construction, environmental, infrastructure, maintenance and manufacturing sectors.(This is why I call them green, environmental and infrastructure jobs)  It is in these sectors,which is often overlooked by green job advocates and detractors alike ,that companies are looking for new workers. Let me explain:

Missing information About Other Green Jobs

One of the major tenants of the green movement is being more efficient with resources. Before a solar or wind facility can produce power, it must be connected to the electrical grid. Most of the current US electrical grid was built in the early 20th century, “leaks” large amounts of energy during high winds and  is prone to large scale blackouts during peak demand periods (see US DOE report power lines) and (see southwest power blackout). Many staunch green energy advocates mention smart grid technology as part of the clean energy jobs agenda but downplay physical grid infrastructure upgrades such as replacing copper lines with super conductive lines, building new substations and new natural gas fired plants as new sources of jobs. Why? Here is the short answer: These construction,engineering, maintenance and manufacturing jobs in the utility sector are not considered green in some circles because they not singularly support clean energy agenda and do not evoke an emotional response from the public.

An Example of Where the Green Jobs Are

Mr. Brooks quoted a GE executive who touted that the GE Smart Grid Initiative would eliminate 128,000 meter reader jobs and a study by McKinsey which found that Smart Grid technology would create a “few engineering jobs” . What was not reported is that the energy utilities industry is having a tough time finding qualified workers for their engineering and maintenance positions maintain the electrical grid (See “Why Many Green, Environmental & Infrastructure Jobs Will Go Unfilled”). In 2008, the Center of Energy Workforce Development reported that 46 percent of the energy utility high skilled workforce (including technician jobs) will have to be replaced by 2013 due to retirements and attrition (see report here) and 1 in 50 applicants for electrical linemen jobs make it through the interview process (The 2009 report was even worse).This ratio is not completely due to employers being “picky”. The major problem is that there are not enough qualified applicants available due to a lack of skills (read more about the skills gap) and the demand for improved infrastructure is rising.

Now I understand those who disagree with me will quote the Bureau of Labor Statistics website (or O*Net) and say that these jobs are not growing (see the info here).  But when you factor in the ASCE Report Card for energy (see it here) which portends the amount of work that needs to be done; potential number of baby boomer retirees and number of qualified applicants to job picture looks quite different. (Here is a List of Green Jobs and their employment outlooks.)

More Green Jobs to Come

I applaud Mr. Brooks’ article for pointing out the shortcomings of some government sponsored green energy programs but when it comes to reporting on the growth and availability of green jobs the whole story should be told.

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