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Green Jobs, Part 5: Chapter One

May 20, 2009 by Joshua Wright

Read the introduction here

I. The Importance of the Occupational Perspective

A big part of our approach thus far has been to look at green jobs through occupation data. Once we match green jobs (a.k.a. job descriptions or projects) to actual occupations we can begin to understand a much broader range of industry characteristics, skills and knowledge, and training programs and providers. Basically, through occupation data we will generally have a more thorough understanding of what green jobs really are.
In our first paper we stated,

“The US Department of Labor identifies nearly 900 distinct occupations (The Standard Occupation Classification System). Matters would be greatly simplified if we could simply scroll through the Labor Department’s list and identify some occupations as green and others as not. Unfortunately, things are not that simple. The consensus among those economists who address these issues is that the designation ‘green’ turns not on the specific task associated with an occupation, but rather on the specific outcome of an occupational effort.”

Since we do not have an actual classification or solid operating definition for green jobs we can use the occupation data to actually convey (1) where the policy might have the biggest impact, (2) how specific industries, labor markets, and training programs are going to or will need to react, and (3) what occupations are most closely associated with the job descriptions/projects that the green movement will demand.

II. Defining the Issue
Green Jobs: Policy and Government Intervention

So let’s start by getting acquainted with the policy and trends that have shaped the green movement. The green movement is more or less being perpetuated by two somewhat complementary forces: (1) Government intervention and (2) Social and market trends.

Let’s first consider government intervention. During his Earth Day speech in Newton, Iowa (where a new wind turbine manufacturer has replaced Maytag’s former headquarters) the president said, “My administration will be pursuing comprehensive legislation to move towards energy independence and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, while creating the incentives to make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.”

The most immediate and urgent push for green jobs is coming from the programs and policies being drafted by the Obama administration. These policies, many of which are contained in the ARRA, are aimed at driving the entire economy (private individuals, industries, and governments) to act in more environmentally-conscious and energy-efficient ways (e.g. reduce pollution, use clean, renewable energy sources, curb carbon emissions, improve air, soil, and water quality, etc.). In this broad effort the Obama administration also says that many jobs will be created and saved (as many as 3.5 million), which will simultaneously help to create a “green economy” and encourage economic development to help our nation emerge from the recession. This includes creating “green jobs,” which are occupations focused on helping our economy operate in cleaner, more energy efficient ways. Green jobs will therefore improve our infrastructure, update our power grids, build new methods of harnessing renewable and clean energy (biofuels, wind, solar, and even tides), improve transportation systems to reduce carbon emissions (mass transit), and provide tax incentives so that people would retrofit their homes to make them more efficient.

This all seems to be strategically aimed at offsetting the large losses incurred by the construction sector over the last year and a half. It’s a bit like the thinking behind the development projects that were used during the Great Depression. There is much debate about this, which we will not enter into now. Our focus in this paper is to understand the thinking and motivation for why the government is trying to create green jobs.

As a result, if we want to find a green job that would be tied to this sort of dramatic effort, we need to take a much more in-depth look at the short list of specific green investments that have been outlined so far. These are: Building Retrofitting, Mass Transit, Smart Grid, Wind Power, Solar Power, and Advanced Biofuels (the list and table below comes from the report entitled, “Green Recovery,” that was produced by the Center for American Progress and PERI).

The key for local planners rests in understanding these opportunities, how to pursue them, and if you get them, applying them in ways that would benefit the region’s workers and economy. In addition, if regions really want to make the most of these investments, it would be wise to mesh stimulus spending—which is short-term and not the sort of money that you can use to rebuild your community with (i.e. small amounts of money)— with the broader needs of the local workforce and business community, which is where long-term development is going to occur.

Green Jobs: Market and Social Trends

From another point of view, our nation is in the throes of the green revolution. This is pushing industries and households in a greener direction. There is a distinct, though not separate trend that permeates popular culture, which is the adoption of the term ‘green’ to project the image of environmental stewardship. This trend has led companies to alter their brands, messages, and products to improve their public image. For instance, television networks now run green versions of their logos while you watch their programs, companies like GE, Toyota, and Wal-Mart tell you how environmentally friendly they are (what does this actually have to do with their products?), and virtually every other large company and mom-and-pop shop lets you know that they are working on “sustainability,” “saving energy,” and “reducing their carbon footprint.” Moreover, companies like Chevron and BP have created subsidiaries called ESCO’s (energy service companies) so they can market themselves as green firms. The wholesale acceptance of the green movement means that (from an economic and labor market perspective) there is going to be quite a bit of room  for the more entrepreneurial type to step in with some marketable ideas.

In addition, because the green movement is relatively young and undefined it finds itself in uncharted waters, a veritable economic and social “Wild West” if you will. Whenever we have movements like this (“the Information Age,” “the Industrial Revolution”) it creates opportunities for entrepreneurial-minded people to step in with new and innovative ideas. One of the results of the recession has been a renewed interest in entrepreneurial ventures. This is where the green movement can get some traction. As our nation struggles through and emerges from the recession, many traditional industry sectors and job descriptions will change and morph according to the needs of the economy. As a result, there could be new space for jobseekers to create products and services and take advantage of available labor pools in order to create products and services that companies, households, and governments interested in the green economy can use.

The big point to keep in mind here is that people interested in working in the green economy cannot necessarily expect a lot of these jobs and the related training to simply fall out of the sky, nor can they expect there to be a lot of new jobs that have never been around before. Initially, most green jobs will likely be created by policy from the federal government. However, the vast majority (and especially the high-paying sort) will come through market forces shaped by public sentiment, which nobody seems to have a solid grasp on yet. Seen this way, finding a green job will not be much different than finding any other job.

So how is a regional developer to approach these issues?

The key is understanding and anticipating how federal policy will affect your region, being familiar with how local companies are changing, and understanding what sort of training will be most appropriate. In addition, once you collect this information you can begin to pass it on to local jobseekers and businesses so they can react appropriately.

Jobseekers can in turn use this information to update themselves with the right skills and training.  Businesses can anticipate what products and services will be needed, as they understand where where money and regulations are going to go. Training providers can also use this information so they can see what programs or curriculum they might need to offer, and be ready to help those that are interested in working in the green economy.

Some of the actual information that could be helpful in this effort is:

  • Industry trends and labor market breakdowns,
  • What occupations will be doing the green work,
  • What training programs are associated with the most in-demand skills/knowledge,
  • How policies and technological developments are going to play out or change regional economies, and
  • What sort of products/services would fill needs (recognized or unrecognized) in the context of the regional economy.

From this perspective the green movement can be yet another opportunity that jobseekers, businesses, and training providers can take advantage of.

In the remainder of this paper we will review (1) how we should think about and approach training for green jobs, (2) demonstrate how you can create industry and occupation analysis for your own area, and (3) how the entrepreneurial perspective is vital in all of this.

III.  To Train or Not to Train
Much of the confusion about green jobs relates to trying to quantify and find green jobs “in the data.” This is a good sign, because it points to the fact that decision-makers are demanding data as they decide the best course of action.

In previous papers we have learned that many of the occupations associated with “green investments” are essentially going to come out of the construction, manufacturing, and engineering sectors (see the Green Investments and Jobs table below). If someone in one of these occupations is working on a green project they will be thought of as having a “green job” because their work activity directly tied to a project resulting in a positive environmental outcome.

(Click on table for larger image)


This definition/classification of the job should be understood based on the actual work activity. And even though maybe just 5 to 10% of the actual work activity is doing green things, it will still be thought of by some as a green job. At the local level (in terms of workforce and economic development), it seems less likely that folks will actually be calling these occupations—such as roofers, plumbers, and civil engineers—“green.”

The key first step in understanding the green clusters referenced above is to collect data on the current status of these occupations. A publication by the National Council for Workforce Education and the Academy for Educational Development emphasizes this point: “As community colleges seek to identify the strategic opportunities of these green sectors, gathering specific and accurate labor market information about the green jobs in demand is critical . . .”

Accurate labor market data would include the number of people employed in the jobs, growth and decline in employment, earnings, replacement jobs (turnover rates), and education level. In addition, once you have this data you can begin to think about how well each one of these areas complements your regional economy, where you might have workforce gaps, and how you could fill those gaps either through occupational compatibility or training programs. Armed with this information, it is very easy and straightforward to approach the issue of training and finding workers.

Before we turn to looking at the actual data, we want to share a few more general observations about green jobs and particularly how this all relates to (1) training, (2) developing the right project, and (3) meeting the needs of employers.

1. First, as has been mentioned, green jobs are going to be dominated by construction and manufacturing jobs that will not require massive retraining efforts, which would defeat the purpose of quickly getting people back to work. In a recent letter to the US House of Representatives, Stephen Sandheer, the CEO of the Association of General Contractors of America stated,

“The US Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in its recent update of the standard occupational classification (SOC) system ‘analyzed over 80 unique suggestions regarding ‘green’ occupations,’ rejecting all but two – wind turbine service technicians and solar photovoltaic installer. In explaining its final decision in the January 21, 2009 Federal Registerer OMB noted, ‘In many cases, the work performed in the ‘green’ job was identical or similar to work performed in existing SOC occupations.”

Sandherr continues:

“The recent report: “US Metro Economies: Green Jobs in U.S. Metro Areas,’ prepared for the U.S Conference of Mayors and the Mayors Climate Protection Center, noted: ‘We should not expect to see a new industry populated by a new breed of ‘green construction workers.’ As green building technology becomes increasingly popular . . . traditional contractors will develop their skill sets and expand their knowledge bases in ways that will allow them to transform large numbers of ordinary buildings into some of the most energy efficient in the world.”

The simple point: because the job activity of green jobs is so similar to those of regular jobs, there is no need to develop radical new training programs. It should be fairly easy to get people ready for these jobs since there are already a lot of ways to train and prepare for engineering, construction, manufacturing occupations, etc. The training can stay the same, with maybe a little new curriculum thrown in to make sure people are familiar with green building codes, etc.

Continuing with this theme, in a March 16 interview in the Huffington Post, Van Jones, author of the Green Collar Economy, was asked about what sorts of occupations will be affected by green policy. In his response he said, “Sometimes people think we’re talking about some exotic occupation from Mars that nobody’s ever heard of. That we’re talking about George Jetson or Buck Rogers when we’re thinking about green jobs. We’re not talking about solar ray-guns; we’re talking about caulking guns as one of the major tools we’re going to need to be smarter with energy. Those are jobs our existing work force, with a little training, can start doing right away.”

So now we see that the actual job activity in these green projects is not going to be that different from what is and was already being done in manufacturing and construction. In a lot of cases, builders and contractors have already naturally developed many of these standards.

Likewise, the NCWE “Going Green” report states that,

“Green jobs in clean energy sectors span a variety of skills, educational backgrounds, and occupations. However, many jobs that are currently, or predicted to be in demand are ‘middle-skilled’ jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. It is important to note that although there will be a growing number of new green occupations requiring new knowledge, skills, and abilities, it is expected that the majority will be transformed from existing jobs, requiring redefinition of skills sets, methods, and occupation profiles.[6]

The report goes on to emphasize the importance of:

A. “Identifying strategic opportunities in these green sectors by gathering up-to-date labor market information about the demand for these occupations.”


B. “Collaborating with workforce and economic developers to review and customize labor market information, survey local employers, and develop industry-specific economic impact models that can reveal the potential impact of green development projects.”

Again, green occupations and industries are not listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so local planners will have to collect data on areas likely to be affected by policy.

2. It’s also important to understand how well a specific project matches up with the needs of your regional economy. To illustrate, if your region doesn’t have the correct wind profile, then installing wind turbines is obviously out of the question. If you are not located near a significant source of biomass (e.g. forest products), then the biofuel projects might be a little far fetched. If the median home price in your town has dropped by 50% (like it has in Phoenix), it might be more unlikely that people will be pouring a lot of money into their homes. These are fairly anecdotal examples, however, considerations like these need to be made when looking at green projects. The questions that should be asked are, “Is this the right project for my region (e.g. will it ‘stick’)?” and “What sort of resources do we already have in place that can be used to accomplish this project?”

Labor market and economic analysis combined with things like employer surveys can both reveal how well a specific development would fit your community, what the relative impact of the project would have (in an economic sense), and if people would be excited, supportive, and behind such a development.

A positive case study for such projects comes from Newton, IA, the former headquarters for Maytag, and the site of the president’s Earth Day speech. The recent loss of Maytag, the town’s largest employer, meant the small town had a huge amount of available space and a qualified and available labor pool that could be transitioned into this expanding wind power industry. But let’s imagine for a moment that Maytag were still operational with no signs of slowing. Let’s also say they offered higher wages than a wind-turbine manufacturer. Attracting such a firm into the region would have been a much different story. But because Newton had all the available skills, facilities, and was ideally situated to be a great location for manufacturing wind turbines, they were able to take stock of their resources in order to wisely develop and grow this new industry.

The primary point is that local planners can do a lot of research and groundwork to bring these investments into the community for positive results, and help the community understand what sort of training and background is needed to successfully pursue each project. Without quantifiable labor market data, we cannot create sustainable jobs, training programs, and markets.

3. Finally, employers are still very much more oriented toward occupational skills and training. The green movement may play a part, but their focus is still on the broader occupational definition and training. At this point, and according to many people who have researched this sector, most of the training can be accomplished by adding some new curriculum into training programs. The California Centers of Excellence have done a good job illustrating this.

In a recent survey they found that:

  • “Just over 60% of employers (in their service territory) identified themselves as green or somewhat green firms, indicating a high level of awareness of the importance of being perceived as green.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of employers state that demand for lower energy costs was very important to the development of the green economy and their business.
  • Over 70% of employers indicated that they had at least some difficulty (49%) if not great difficulty (22%) recruiting non entry-level employees with adequate skills and work experience.
  • Employers indicated that an A.A. degree in a green subject area was not a priority for hiring employees. A short-term certificate is more desirable to employers hiring employees in the green economy.”

IV.  Occupational Training

Now, let’s move on to understanding the various government-backed development projects and how we can communicate and prepare for them. First let’s consider something that was covered in a previous paper on green jobs. One of the things that is very unique about the United States is how much data we collect on industries and occupations. The BLS classifies and tracks nearly 900 distinct occupations. This is important because this information gives regional developers a tremendous advantage when they want to actually understand the status of various types of workers, businesses, and economic activities in data-driven, objective ways. Many nations don’t have this sort of information (at least publicly available), which means that they will have to survey or guess if they want to make decisions based on hard numbers and measurable economic trends.

It is important to understand and use this information (especially occupation data) when approaching green jobs. Occupations are well classified and cover a very broad range of activities. And with nearly 900 classified, most new jobs that show up in the economy will often fall into a existing code. This data form the foundation of regional forecasts and analysis, and can be applied to any county, ZIP or custom region in the nation. In addition, one occupation will actually be comprised of multiple job titles (see Table: Occupations vs Job Titles), so occupation categories actually capture multiple job titles. In this case we have two job titles (Wind turbine electrical engineer and Wind farm electrical system designer), which are essentially doing the work of an electrical engineer. 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 and training needs that are actually grounded in data.


Furthermore, when occupation categories are used we can trace the data back to (1) specific industries through staffing patterns, (2) other occupations through O*NET data, and (3) to specific training programs through a CIP to SOC crosswalk.

So what is a good way to interact with this information and use it to understand where to find people and what training they might need?

In the graph below we provide a simplified schematic. On the left hand side we start with either a job description or a green project. Let’s imagine we open the classified ads and a local construction company is looking for solar panel installers. This currently does not have a recognized SOC (it will be next year). To better understand this job, we should see how well we can line it up with a current occupation (center circle). The way to do this is through understanding the actual work activity. Maybe the occupation is very similar to the work activities of a roofer or an electrician. Once we have that information we can then crosswalk over to:

  • Industries (based on NAICS, top right circle) to learn more about trends,
  • Other occupations (based on O*NET, middle right circle) with similar knowledge, skills, and abilities, and
  • Training programs (based on CIP codes, bottom right circle) so we can see who trains for this sort of thing.



  • Our local construction company is looking to hire someone to work on a green project (left blue or red circles). Let’s stick with the solar panel installers. So what we want to do is match the job activity to the nearest occupation.
  • Currently the occupations that would be closest to this sort of work (based on skills descriptions) are roofers and electricians.

From this we can analyze these specific occupations based on SOC (Standard Occupation Classification) codes (center circle). With this information we can move in a lot of directions through crosswalks. In addition, with occupation data we can look at earnings, new and replacement jobs, and change for any region (county, ZIP, or custom region) for our roofers and electricians. This will tell us things like how much they would expect to be paid, if they are losing work, and what industries typically employ them.

  • Mapping to Industries: The top industries employing electricians are Nonresidential and Residential general contractors, Single family home general contractors, and Residential remodelers. Electricians also do a lot of work in the Residential/Nonresidentail electrical contractor and Plumbing and HVAC contractors industries. Because of the downturn, many of these sectors are going to have pretty high unemployment.
  • Occupations: Mapping occupations to other compatible occupations using O*NET is a useful way to see where people can be up-skilled or transitioned from in order to fill workforce gaps or find reemployment possibilities. In this case Machinists, which is a declining sector, are pretty compatible to electricians. Therefore, with a little training, people with these jobs could be retrained to work as electricians or perhaps solar panel installers, especially if this sector picks up as a result of the green projects around weatherization, and solar installation.
  • Training programs: With occupation data we can also understand the level of education/training associated with the occupation (e.g. associate’s degree, on-the-job training, etc.), and map this information over to regional programs that train for the occupations. If we have the SOC code we can match it to CIP codes (Classification of Instructional Programs) to see what sort of training is in the area. This is done via a SOC-CIP crosswalk that indicates the relationships between program content and occupations, based on the descriptions of each.

Using this sort of labor market analysis will allow us to consider a lot of things, move in multiple directions, and help provide solid regional data and analysis to everyone from local planners to local jobseekers.

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

Read Chapter two here

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