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Green Jobs, Part 3: Green Pathways

March 4, 2009 by Joshua Wright

Green Jobs, part 3: A data-driven approach to defining, quantifying, and harnessing the green economy

To read Green Pathways (PDF): EMSI green jobs part 3 data spotlight


At the local level, the discussion of green jobs should be rooted in data as much as possible. As regions consider major investments in the green economy and workforce and education professionals counsel jobseekers on new opportunities in “green occupations,” it is essential that a data-driven approach is applied to avoid purely anecdotal decisions that could ultimately waste people’s time and money. To this end, in this piece we aim to help local planners understand how to analyze green jobs or the potential for green jobs in their own communities.

President Obama and many members of his administration frequently speak of how green jobs will help transform our economy. This is all fine when in you’re in Washington, but how do local economic, workforce, and education practitioners digest, explain, and apply these ideas? Right now, if you stood up at a community meeting or explained to your board that you are going to create green jobs, you would most likely be greeted with blank stares, confused expressions, and generally a frustrated audience. Why is this?

Well first, the concept of green jobs is still rather abstract. In their well publicized book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath explain how every good idea is simple and concrete. This is a very important point for regional and local planers because the closer you get to real situations, real jobs, and real people, the more you need to be clear, credible, and easy to understand. The concept of green jobs still lacks concreteness and tangible examples. And thus far, a mountain of policy documents and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which few have actually read, are the only things we can use to understand this issue. So how do we even begin to plan, train, and get people ready for this sector without having a strong sense of what green jobs actually are?

For now, the biggest thing that planners can do is look at the occupations and industries that would be affected by the policy and use local analysis to understand the status of these sectors in your community. As regions consider major investments in the green economy, and workforce and education professional counsel jobseekers on new opportunities in “green occupations,” a data-driven approach will help us be simple, concrete, and credible. In addition, such analysis will help people visualize what you are talking about, and help you avoid making well intentioned decisions that could ultimately waste a lot of time and money.

Therefore, a primary goal of this piece is to help you understand how to analyze the green jobs or the potential for green jobs in your own region. To this end, in this piece we will:

1. Differentiate between occupations and job titles
2. Identify specific groupings of green occupations that can be used in regional analysis
3. Present a case study of green pathways analysis to demonstrate how to:

a. Estimate the potential impact of green investments
b. Transition displaced workers in green occupations
c. Connect green occupations with more specific green jobs titles

1. Distinguishing Occupations from Job Titles

Much of the research and analysis around green jobs has tended to focus on green job titles, which are not the same thing as occupation categories. Since our goal is to provide a better definition of what green jobs actually are we need to use occupation categories as much as possible. As a result, it is important to clarify the difference between job titles and occupations.

At this point, most of the focus on green jobs has been around job titles because everyone wants to know the specific work activities required in these professions. The problem is that while job titles can provide good descriptions about specific work activities, there is a tremendous lack of readily available data and standardization for these titles. And while the ability to be more specific about a job’s actual work activities is important, if standardized and secondary data is not available, workers and employers will not have a set of information that they can use to support local decisions.

Occupation Categories

Occupations are broad, well established groupings of workers (e.g. Retail salespersons) defined by the Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) system. Occupation categories are well defined because the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program as well as the O*NET program, both run by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), collect employment, wage, and competency (knowledge, skills, and ability) data for each occupation category. This data form the foundation of
regional forecasts and analysis, and can be applied to any county, ZIP or custom region in the nation (see EMSI’s web-based analysis tools for a more complete illustration). In addition, one occupation will actually be comprised of multiple job titles (Table 1), so occupation categories actually capture the various job titles. The resolution might not be as fine, but the data certainly are a lot better, and will allow local practitioners to generate very detailed and objective analysis of local employment characteristics.


Furthermore, when occupation categories are used we can trace the data back to specific industries through staffing patterns. Staffing patterns allow us to discern which occupations are employed in a given industry. This information is critical when considering things like retraining dislocated workers, or when we need to know what occupations will be required by a company (be it new or existing).

Figure 1 illustrates how we can connect job titles to occupations in order to visualize linkages to other industries and occupations. It also illustrates how new and emerging jobs (such as green jobs) don’t always perfectly overlap with occupation categories. Very often emerging jobs are involved in work activities that require new knowledge, skills, and abilities. Defining these differences and cataloguing these competencies is also important because if these new categories grow and persist in the economy they could be added into the classification system and standardized.

To better understand new competency requirements for green workers, we recommend this case study about the Centers of Excellence of California Community Colleges.


2. Occupations and Green Occupations

Imagine two welders. They both have the same training, the same tools, and the same wages. However, one is “green” and the other is not. In this case the notion of a green occupation is not directly associated with the actual job. Rather, the definition has to do with the specific product or service being produced. To illustrate, let’s say one welder manufactures small parts for boats, and the other manufactures wind turbines. In this case the wind turbine welder is green and the other is not—even though they have identical jobs. In fact, the boat parts manufacturer might actually have a smaller “carbon footprint” relative to materials consumed and pollutants created. These workers could be swapped for one another with little or no training, and as a result, it is not possible at the macro level and according to SOC codes to differentiate between the two identical occupations to determine which one is green. Understood this way, green occupations can be broadly defined as any occupation which has the potential to be engaged in environmentally-friendly work activities or
produce environmentally-friendly products. We therefore recommend that each occupation category be mapped to their corresponding green job titles in order to highlight the specific ways that an occupation can pursue green work activities.

Figure 2: The list comes from the report entitled, “Green Recovery,” (download the pdf) which was produced by the Center for American Progress and PERI.


What are some examples of “green” occupation groups?

So here is the easy way to understand this. Based on the policy directions, groups of occupations will be associated with green projects. One such list is provided in Figure 2. Each project in the list is considered green, and any occupation associated with the project will also be considered green by implication. As more environmentally-friendly technologies and services are developed and defined, we can expect to see more of these “green” project/occupation clusters. But again, the list provided here is nothing more than a list of occupations likely to be associated with the specific project.

3. Scenario: Green Pathways in Building Retrofitting

The following example demonstrates a few of the ways regions can use industry and occupation analysis to understand the region’s potential for creating green economies. This exercise focuses on using the demand for green projects (see Figure 2) as an opportunity to transition dislocated workers into green occupations. Our approach will be composed of the following steps.

1. Model the impact of the potential investment
2. Identify dislocated workers
3. Identify compatible occupations within associated green project area
4. Assess advantages and disadvantages to potential transitions
5. Map occupations to specific green job titles

The region we selected for analysis includes all ZIP codes within a 30-mile radius of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Figure 3).

Figure 3: ZIP codes with a 30-mile radius around Grand Rapids, Michigan


STEP 1: Model Impact of Potential Investment

One of the first questions we should ask is, “What will the total demand for green jobs be in my region?” To answer this we can analyze labor market projections for the green occupation groups. However, projections will not capture the demand for projects resulting from the stimulus package. In order to estimate the potential impact of new investments we must use an input-output model, which will allow us to run “what-if” scenarios to see the impact of the spending.

In this example, we used EMSI’s EI model to simulate the impact of a $10 million dollar investment in building retrofitting. The specific industry we selected was Commercial and institutional building construction (NAICS 236220), because much of the economic stimulus funds in this area are aimed at improvements in government and higher education facilities. Results include the following:

• A $10 million dollar investment in building retrofitting would create a total of 157 jobs
• Eighty-one jobs would be required directly within Commercial and institutional building construction
• An additional 76 jobs would be created in support industries
• The total jobs multiplier for the investment would be 1.93

Multipliers for this kind of investment will differ from region to region. It should also be understood that there are limitations to an input-output model’s ability to estimate the impacts from investments in green projects. The primary reason for this limitation is that green projects may require different inputs (raw materials, equipment, etc.) than traditional projects. These nuances should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

STEP 2: Identify Dislocated Workforce

Now that we have an estimate of the number of jobs that would be created, we can explore what pathways exist for the unemployed workforce. Dislocated workers interested in moving into green occupations can be identified in a number of ways. For example, we could explore transitions for a jobseeker who registers at a local one-stop career center. We could also explore opportunities for groups of workers who have recently been laid off from local employers. For our analysis, we used the most recent labor market information for Grand Rapids to identify the top five occupations that
have experienced the greatest unemployment over the last five years.

These are:
· Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging and systems assemblers
· Team assemblers
· Stock clerks
· Drywall and ceiling tile installers
· Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators

STEP 3: Identify Compatible Occupations within Selected Green Field

Once the dislocated workforce has been identified, we can explore potential compatible careers in green occupations. The following table displays potential careers in building retrofitting for dislocated workers. In order to be a good candidate career, occupations must have competitive or similar wages and a compatibility index score above 90.

(Click on images to see full-sized viewing)


STEP 4: Assess Advantages and Disadvantages to Potential Transitions

In Step 2 we identified Team assemblers as one of the region’s occupations experiencing the highest level of unemployment. Step 3 allowed us to identify compatible occupations within building retrofitting that could be good targets for dislocated workers. Now we will assess the relative advantages and disadvantages of a specific career for Team assemblers. Our compatibility index has identified that Team assemblers possess knowledge and skills similar to the following building retrofitting occupations:


For this sample analysis, a transition from Team assemblers to Insulation workers will be considered.

Overview of Selected Displaced Occupation: Team Assemblers (SOC 51-2092)

O*NET definition: Work as part of a team having responsibility for assembling an entire product or component of a product. Team assemblers can perform all tasks conducted by the team in the assembly process and rotate through all or most of them rather than being assigned to a specific task on a permanent basis. May participate in making management decisions affecting the work. Team leaders who work as part of the team should be included.

Alternative Job Titles: Assembler, Assembly Line Machine Operator, Assembly Operator, Assembly Line Worker, Assembly Associate, Certified Composites Technician (CCT), Operator Technician, Production Line Worker, Assembly Inspector, Assembly Technician

Industries Hiring Team Assemblers: Direct re-employment opportunities should always be considered before transitioning workers to other occupations. Workers who can find other industries that are hiring for positions in their occupation (as opposed to switching careers altogether) are able to find re-employment faster and usually with minimal retraining.

Employment Summary:


Education, Training & Compentency Summary:


Industries Hiring Team Assemblers: Direct re-employment opportunities should always be considered before transitioning workers to other occupations. Workers who can find other industries that are hiring for positions in their occupation (as opposed to switching careers altogether) are able to find re-employment faster and usually with minimal retraining.


STEP 4: Continued

Competency Comparison

From: Team assemblers

To: Insulation workers, mechanical

The following charts compare the knowledge and skill competencies of these two occupations and facilitate quick identification of competencies for which Team assemblers are over or under qualified. A summary of these competencies can be found on the next page. Note: not all O*NET competency areas are included. Only competencies that are important, very important and extremely important to Insulation workers, mechanical (according to O*NET) are compared.



Competency Comparison Summary

From: Team assemblers

To: Insulation workers, mechanical

The following table displays the competencies where Team assemblers are overqualified, qualified or under qualified when compared to Insulation workers, mechanical. Special attention should be paid to under qualifications, which point out where additional training is needed.


STEP 5: Map Occupations to Specific Green Job Titles

Green Job Opportunities for Insulation Workers, Mechanical

In one sense, Insulation workers can be considered a green occupation because of their involvement in building retrofitting. However, not all building retrofitting is designed to make buildings more energy efficient. In order to explore specific green job opportunities within the general occupational field of Insulation workers, mechanical, we have mapped this occupation to corresponding green job titles published in the Green Job Guidebook.

Insulation Installer

Green Job Guidebook, pg. 28

Description: Responsible for pasting, wiring, taping, or spraying insulation onto a variety of structures and surfaces to exclude or retain heat.

Minimum Educational Requirements: HS Diploma/GED

Experience Needed: Entry level, 1-3 months related experience

Growth Potential: Huge potential as energy efficient technology advances

Employer Type: Private firms


The first rule when analyzing green jobs at a local level should be to take a data-driven approach—whenever possible. While that might seem difficult on the surface, regional analysis becomes much more effective when specific green occupation titles and groupings of green occupations are identified. This allows local and regional planners to avoid working in the abstract and find real answers for their communities. As the Grand Rapids scenario showed, with the right foundation of data in place, estimating the potential impacts of investments and transitioning displaced workers
into green occupations that fit their knowledge and skills competencies becomes a much more straightforward process.

For help conducting similar analysis for your area, please contact us.

About the Data

Industry Data

In order to capture a comprehensive picture of regional industry employment (EMSI Complete Employment), EMSI basically combines unsuppressed covered employment data from Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) produced by the Department of Labor with total employment data in the Regional Economic Information System published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, augmented with County Business Patterns and Nonemployer Statistics published by the U.S. Census Bureau. Projections are based on the latest available EMSI industry data combined with past trends in each industry and the industry growth rates in national projections (Bureau of Labor Statistics) and state-level projections (individual state agencies).

Unemployment data are based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Local Area Unemployment Statistics program. EMSI also provides a more limited industry and occupation data set, EMSI Covered Employment, which is an unsuppressed version of QCEW.

Occupation Data

EMSI’s occupation data are based on EMSI’s industry data and regional occupational statistics and staffing patterns taken from the Occupational Employment Statistics program (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Additional wage information is derived from the American Community Survey, and wages are adjusted and interpolated at the county and ZIP code level using EMSI earnings data from relevant industries.

Competency Data

Occupation competency data include numbers that quantify attainment levels and importance levels of various knowledge, skill, and ability categories for over 800 standard occupations. The source is the U.S. Department of Labor’s O*NET database, version 10. EMSI’s occupational compatibility score is based entirely on source. Several assumptions are made in calculating compatibility: (1) The O*NET categories of Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities are sufficient to determine compatibility between occupations; (2) Compatibility decreases exponentially as the difference increases between two occupations’ O*NET scores in one category; and over-qualifications and under-qualifications based on these scores are treated as equally negative.

About EMSI

Products and Services

EMSI provides integrated regional economic and labor market data, web-based analysis tools, datadriven reports, and custom consulting services. EMSI specializes in detailed information about regional economies for assessment and planning purposes, bringing together industry, workforce, economic development, and education/training perspectives. EMSI’s expertise is centered on regional economics, data integration and analysis, programming, and design so that it can provide the best available products and services for regional decision makers. EMSI recently merged with its sister company CCbenefits Inc.—well known for conducting socioeconomic impact studies for over 800 community and technical colleges across the nation—to offer an integrated portfolio of solutions for college, workforce, and economic development professionals.


EMSI’s diverse client base includes hundreds of colleges, workforce boards, economic development organizations, governmental agencies, economists, consultants, academics, and private-sector analysts. With over four thousand current clients in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom, EMSI’s products and services are critical for strategic decision making and informed regional policy.

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