Gearing Up for Green Jobs: What Can We Expect?
Policymakers looking for a silver lining to the dark cloud hovering over the U.S. economy are seeing green. Some are hoping that new jobs created by alternative energy and environmental industries will act as a panacea for the nation's sputtering economy. But how much can we count on "green jobs" to jumpstart the recovery?
A recent study by Georgia Institute of Technology's Enterprise Innovation Institute, along with the City and Regional Planning Program and School of Public Policy, indicates that to make the most of green industries, we'll have to understand them better (Youtie et al, 2008). The study tries to clarify some basic questions to create a clearer picture of what to expect from investment in environmentally conscious economic development.
What exactly is a green job? What sort of demand will we see for green workers, and what kinds of job-slots will they fill? What will it take to initiate green projects that create the jobs? And what kind of educational preparation will workers need to step into the new positions?
Crunching the numbers
RAND Corporation analysts (Toman et al, 2008), and the University of Tennessee's Agricultural Economics Division, found that if we could reach the goal set by the 25x25 Alliance of obtaining 25 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2025, we would generate 5 million new jobs (English et al., 2006).
These varying projections are based on a whole range of different approaches to everything from how green industry is defined to what sorts of models are used to link green industry to job increases. Clarifying some of these approaches will give us a better idea of what to expect from the "green revolution."
Just what is a green job or a green industry? Would a high tech photovoltaic plant that supplies renewable solar energy at decreasing costs with increasing efficiency be considered "green"—even though it works with environmentally noxious chemicals? Can existing construction, manufacturing, utility and service industries be seen as part of the green tech sector if they are implementing strategies to reduce their environmental footprint?
Once we have defined what a green job is, how can we anticipate the magnitude of the need for a green workforce? Will the need increase incrementally or gradually? Or will the growth of green industry mirror the trajectory of information technology, which required a huge workforce with new skills?
What do policymakers need to do to help people and industry benefit from the green movement?
In Georgia Tech's study, "Energy and Environmental Workforce Needs: Supply and Demand in Georgia" (Youtie et al, 2008), we look at the demand for green jobs in Georgia at the higher education level as compared to the supply of green workers, and we project the types of educational programs the state could institute to address this need.
What is a green job?
One definition was posed in a recent TIME Magazine quoting Phil Angelides of the Apollo Alliance, a business, labor, environmental, and community coalition that promotes clean technologies and practices, as well as works to maximize the economic promise they hold (May 26, 2008). Explaining how "green collar jobs" differ from other jobs, Angelides states that a green collar job must provide a livable wage and "reduce waste and pollution and benefit the environment." (See Walsh 2008 for more on "green collar jobs.") This definition involves two concepts (with the notion of fair wages being endemic to both): (1) conservation of energy resources and (2) minimization of negative environmental impacts. While this definition certainly makes sense at the conceptual level, it doesn't help distinguish green jobs from other types of occupations in existing databases.
A definition that would make it possible for economists to track the impact of green jobs has to navigate between overly narrow and overly broad understandings. A narrow approach might, for example, focus strictly on emerging clean technologies such as fuel cells to estimate the number of new jobs that will be created.
One thing we know about green activities is that they form platform technologies and techniques that can be applied to a variety of existing as well as future industries and occupations. In its broadest understanding, energy and environmental industries could include any business that monitors its use of energy and the waste it emits, because attention to these issues represents a change in the way all business is being done. Many existing businesses are creating new positions for energy and environmental specialists to address these changes. How analysts come to terms with this problem of scope affects most estimates of the impact of green industries on job production.
Government classifications of publicly available information reflect the dilemma of capturing jobs in energy and environmental areas. Emerging clean technologies are but a very small part of much broader North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) classes. (NAICS is the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments and jobs by industry type.) For example, fuel cells (which are a type of battery designed to reduce emissions) are included in NAICS class 3359, "All Other Miscellaneous Electrical Equipment and Component Manufacturing." This class encompasses quite a diverse range of electrical devices in addition to fuel cells—such as bells, garage door openers, surge suppressors and particle accelerators.
A comparison of six national and state studies of green industries found that the definitions they used were not necessarily consistent: Some counted conventional energy sources such as oil and gas extraction, electric power generation, and petroleum refineries as part of the energy and environmental industry cluster (for example, the President's High Growth Job Training study), while others only included emerging clean technologies (for example, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Cluster study). Some placed the construction industry under the "high performance building" or "green building" category of green jobs, while others focused solely on energy resource and environmental consulting services. It would surely be helpful for government classifications to create a special class for renewable energy and environmental industries, similar to the ones they created for information technology industries, which were formerly scattered across several NAICS classes.
Likewise, no standard definition exists of what is and what is not an energy or environmental occupation. The Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) system published by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 1999 is used by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to portray and project occupational employment information. Like the NAICS-based analysis of industries, SOC classification systems yield a widely diverse picture of green jobs, depending on how the information is assessed. For example, three of seven SOC-based reports on green jobs agree that the category Environmental Engineering Technicians (SOC 173025) is a green occupation. But only one source considers Mining and Geological Engineers (172151) as a green occupation.
Although at present there is no resolution to these definitional dilemmas, it is important to be aware of how approaches to measurement affect various analyses of green job growth and to keep this in mind when reviewing estimates of needs associated with green jobs.
How many new green jobs can we expect? A case study
The team's estimation process drew on definitions of green industries that included the mining of energy resources; generation, transmission and distribution of energy resources by a public utility; manufacturing of energy and environmental products; and environmental and energy-related research and development, treatment and remediation services. The definition did not include the construction industry because it did not comport with an existing state economic development standard. The analysis applied the definition by using 12 NAICS-based industries, 26 occupations and 61 postsecondary educational specializations.
The results showed that Georgia has 46,000 employees working in energy and environmental industries. Existing firms in these industries experienced a modest decline in employment of less than 2 percent between 2001 and 2006. Future projections indicate a 6 percent increase in employment in the green tech industries is likely by 2014. From an occupational standpoint, projections to 2014 indicate that the state would need 1,340 workers annually in the 26 targeted energy and environmental occupations, including both new positions and replacements for employees that leave the workforce.
A comparison of estimates of demand for workers with the current supply of graduates in relevant fields from the state's public and private postsecondary educational systems showed a modest shortfall. Forty-four of Georgia's public and private postsecondary educational institutions have relevant offerings in most of the 61 targeted instructional programs related to our definition of green jobs.
When we matched the number of graduates from these programs—specifically the average annual number of graduates between 2004 and 2006 in the targeted instructional programs—with the annual demand for employees in the 26 energy and environmental occupations under analysis, we found an estimated overall annual shortfall of more than 140 workers in seven occupations. These occupations are mostly in environmental engineering, including chemical technicians and other technicians, as well as in atmospheric, materials, and environmental science areas.
Although these shortfalls are notable, they aren't of a magnitude to meet the hopes of national observers who have likened green job growth to that of the dotcom era of the 1990s. The reasons for this discrepancy are many, including:
Green jobs and community development
First, monitoring new programs to make the most of opportunities in recent federal legislation is important. For example, policymakers should be aware of significant provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus package for tax credits, research and development, state planning grants, and energy infrastructure.
Second, many state and local governments have paved the way with legislation devoted to the development of green economy jobs and training programs, such as the Governor's Climate Change and Green Collar Jobs legislation in the state of Washington. Others have issued stipulations that encourage green activities in state government, such as the state of Virginia's certified energy manager directive.
Third, training and educational programs should review and update their course offerings in response to the current and potential needs of green industries. While engineering and environmental science programs are certainly central in meeting these needs, management and policy sciences concentrations are also important as companies and governments look for expertise in sustainability reporting and carbon footprinting. The degree of breadth necessary in the green technology domain will require careful attention because of the cross-disciplinary nature of training required to address it.
Technical training certificates and programs will also play an important role in providing high performance building skills for installers, operators, code officials, home energy raters, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) professionals and other trades. A number of best practices across the U.S. in green technology education and program development can be reviewed for setting up and operating pilot training programs, some of which may require specialized facilities ranging from smallscale biorefineries to roof space for solar power technology installation.
Fourth, any approach to action should take into account both the need to anticipate demand and the need to reflect on potential. In anticipating demand, policymakers should be aware that market dynamics that are gradual today could become sharply disruptive tomorrow.
At the same time, a thoughtful approach to issues would match research to distinctive local characteristics and needs as well as entrepreneurial and commercial markets. It would also consider the offerings and capabilities of existing training and education providers and aim to make opportunities for participating in the energy economy widely available.
Without this dual approach, a region's investment may undershoot potential benefits for its businesses and citizens or fail to pay off.
This article was written by Jan Youtie, Ph.D., manager of policy services for the Enterprise Innovation Institute and an adjunct associate professor in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Institute of Technology.
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