May 20, 2009 by Joshua Wright
I. Understanding the Green Clusters and Associated Training
First, let’s review the status of two primary industry areas that will be affected by the green movement. These two industry sectors are Engineering and Construction (manufacturing will be, but manufacturing taken as a industry sector is too wide and disparate and the green economy will likely not impact a large proportion of these occupations). As a result, we will analyze the manufacturing jobs as they relate to the actual green clusters.
A common thread in the green occupation clusters are engineering occupations. Whether it’s Computer software engineers for smart grid projects or Chemical engineers for the advanced biofuels cluster, these high-skill, high-wage jobs could be in great demand. Below is a table of trends, earnings, and training requirements for all engineering occupations found in green clusters.
These occupations require either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and programs in engineers are plentiful. The average earnings for these occupations is $36 per hour (roughly $68K per year). In general, the job outlook for these occupations is holding a lot more steady as compared to the construction and manufacturing clusters. Computer software engineers and environmental engineers are contributing to the growth. Civil engineers, Chemical engineers, and Electrical engineers are showing slight decline.
Related competency requirements for Engineering
In order to better understand the sort of training and background engineers must have, we have provided a list of the primary knowledge and skills areas for engineers. After analyzing the competencies of engineers, certain critical knowledge and skills stick out.
Here are some at the top of the knowledge and skill areas:
Knowledge: design, physics, mathematics, computers and electronics, chemistry
Skills: reading comprehension, complex problem solving, critical thinking, active learning
Computer software engineers, applications
Knowledge: computers and electronics, mathematics, telecommunications
Skills: programming, critical thinking, complex problem solving
Computer software engineers, systems software
Knowledge: computers and electronics, mathematics, English language
Skills: complex problem solving, technology design, troubleshooting
Knowledge: chemistry, mathematics, physics
Skills: complex problem solving, reading comprehension, active learning
Knowledge: design, building and construction, mathematics
Skills: reading comprehension, critical thinking, complex problem solving
Civil engineering technicians
Knowledge: mathematics, design, computers and electronics
Skills: reading comprehension, active learning, critical thinking
Knowledge: computers and electronics, mathematics, English language
Skills: active listening, troubleshooting, critical thinking
These knowledge and skill areas also correspond to specific programs, which would be a little too complex and unwieldy to apply at the national level. We recommend that you map out these training programs for your area to see how much training is being provided and if it is starting to prepare workers specifically for green projects. If you would like to see programs associated with engineering in your area please contact us.
Again the work activities for green projects are not going to be very far from the normal scope of these jobs, and just a little new training would be required. Here are some other observations and suggestions offered by the CA Centers of Excellence relative to training engineers for the green economy:
New Skills and Competencies in Engineering:
“Environmental engineers work behind the scenes and are well-versed in biology and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. However, focus is expected to shift from controlling existing problems to preventing problems. Therefore, these engineers will need new knowledge and skills in prevention of environmental problems.”
“Mechanical engineers could be good candidates to transition into energy engineers. Energy engineers assist companies in reducing energy costs and making buildings more efficient. Mechanical engineers would need to acquire a new set of skills associated with energy efficiency and green building principles to be able to perform the job of an energy engineer.”
Recommendations to community colleges
Likewise, construction-related occupations are purported to be in great demand. Below is a look at trends for construction. These jobs pop up throughout the green clusters and certainly would be affected by “green” projects. With the housing bust, these occupations have taken quite a hit. The training tends to be on-the-job, and the wages average out to about $18 per hour ($34K). Carpenters and Electricians are experiencing some of the greatest decline —shedding some 7% of their total workforce.
Construction competency requirements
Knowledge: building and construction, administration and management, engineering and technology
Skills: critical thinking, reading comprehension, monitoring
Knowledge: building and construction, mathematics, design
Skills: mathematics, time management, active listening
Knowledge: building and construction, mathematics, mechanical
Skills: active listening, coordination, speaking
Knowledge: building and construction, mechanical, public safety and security
Skills: active listening, equipment maintenance, equipment selection
Knowledge: mechanical, building and construction, mathematics
Skills: critical thinking, active listening, operation monitoring
Painters, construction and maintenance
Knowledge: customer and personal service, English language, public safety and security
Skills: active listening, time management, coordination
Knowledge: building and construction, design, mathematics
Skills: installation, coordination, speaking
Construction and building inspectors
Knowledge: building and construction, English language, engineering and technology
Skills: critical thinking, active listening, speaking
Understanding Green Jobs and the Construction Sector
Let’s once again use an excerpt from the Centers of Excellence study to better understand the potential for the construction trades in the green economy:
“Green building firms are found in all sectors of construction, including commercial and industrial facilities, residential buildings, and among specialty trade contractors. The workforce impact will not only be felt in the construction industry, but also among those firms that are involved in green design (i.e. architects and planners), as well as firms that develop and produce green building materials. . . Green building ratings, particularly the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system implemented by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), play an important role in both providing a gold standard for builders to aim for, as well as certifying that a building or facility is as ‘green’ as it says.”
Construction skills that will be required:
“In the construction industry, and especially green building, cost estimators must have a comprehensive understanding of how the design process is implemented, including what ‘green’ building materials will work for a given design and how they should be priced. Because green construction requires different designs and uses different building materials, cost estimators are significantly impacted by green construction. A common perception is that green construction facilities are generally estimated to cost more than traditional construction facilities. Cost estimators unfamiliarity with green construction processes and materials may result in overestimating costs, rather than underestimating. Therefore, a well-trained cost estimator is crucial for green building projects.”
As has been pointed out, training providers can respond by adding specific certifications to existing programs. A very good example of this comes from Grand Rapids Community College, which added the “Green Advantage – Environmental Certification” to its curriculum. Here is a description of the course:
“Green Advantage® is an environmental certification for building related practitioners – primarily contractors, subcontractors and trades people. Certified individuals have successfully passed the Green Advantage® Certification Exam demonstrating knowledge of current green building principles, materials, and techniques.”
Reviewing the Green Clusters
Now we will take a closer look at the skills, education, and training associated with the specific green clusters (Building/Retrofitting, Wind, Solar, Biofuels, Smart Grid, Mass Transit/Freight). Please note that in this section we will be looking at all the workers across all industries that staff these occupations, not just possible green ones. While we’ve used national county-level data below, the goal for planners should be to look at trends on a local or regional level to get a sense of what occupations (green or otherwise) are thriving or suffering.
Another important reminder is that although much of the data paint a bleak picture for the bulk of the clusters, they also mean there’s a multitude of available workers for start-up projects, etc.
1. Building Retrofitting
This occupation cluster is more or less tied to increased energy efficiency for homes, offices, and public buildings. First, notice that we have expanded our cluster (from the PERI list) to include a more exhaustive list of occupations. This was done based on the recommendation of the Association of General Contractors.
2. Mass Transit/Freight Rail Cluster
This cluster primarily revolves around the transportation sector and construction related to road and structural projects (e.g. bridges, overpasses, etc.).
3. Smart Grid Cluster
The smart grid cluster is focused mostly on enhancing power generation technology, both with transmission and distribution grids. The idea is that better technology will lead to energy efficiency and savings, as well as increased reliability. Smart grid, according to an article in the Electronic Engineering Times, is a “broad term indicating a wide array of changes that could make today’s analog and closed electricity network more like the Internet in the way it is remotely and openly monitored and managed.”
4. Wind Farms
At this point it appears that sometime next year that the BLS will officially add Wind technician (or some derivation of that) to the SOC classification system (it will take a little while longer for data to actually start to come in). This will provide regions with the ability to quantify these green occupations. Programs to train wind technicians are popping up all over the nation, at an exponential rate. The concern is that education institutions are creating these programs without a thorough enough understanding of the labor market and potentially through the use of inflated job projections that serve to substantiate program development. Before every college and jobseeker rushes out to train for these jobs, here is a word of caution. With unemployment as high as it is in construction and manufacturing, and with actual demand for new construction and manufacturing at the lowest point they have been in recent memory, it is important to not overtrain in these areas.
After reading the National Council for Workforce Education’s paper on the role community colleges play in growing a green workforce, we thought it would be interesting to look at some data and employment trends for the sort of occupations employed at a company that manufactures wind turbines.
The NCWE report includes a typical employee profile for a 250-person wind manufacturing firm. We’ve taken the national outlook for the selected occupations in the profile and run some analysis to see how they’re projected to change from 2008-2010. These are counts for all of the jobs in each 5-digit SOC area and are not necessarily to be considered “green.” The purpose is to show the national outlook in job growth/loss, earnings, and the associated training requirements for each of the 27 occupations.
Note: These are selected occupations, based off information from Management Information Services Inc., and the American Solar Energy Society.
5. Solar Power
This cluster is focused on the use of solar cells for energy, including photovoltaic modules that
produce electricity directly from sunlight.
6. Advanced Biofuels
This cluster is made up of occupations that staff the chemical, transportation, and agriculture industries.
We recommend that you create such analysis for your own area and have this sort of information on hand so that you can help jobseekers, displaced workers, or others interested in these sectors. In addition, such information is a good place to start when considering which investment or project area is going to be most helpful in your community.
If you have questions or would like to prepare some regional analysis on labor market trends, education/training programs, or economic impacts for your area, please contact us.
Who should provide training?
Because many of the occupations closely associated with the green projects are in areas like manufacturing and construction there is a a lot of talk around who should be the primary training provider. On one hand you have apprenticeships, which are more appropriate for jobs that only require “on-the-job training” and on the other you have more workforce oriented institutions like community and technical colleges.
In February of 09 the AFL-CIO announced its Center for Green Jobs: “The mission of the center is not only to engage public policy but to also move beyond that to help our labor unions implement real green jobs initiatives—initiatives that retain and create good union jobs, provide pathways to those jobs and assist with the design and implementation of training programs to prepare incumbent workers as well as job seekers for these family-sustaining careers.”
Community colleges have also launched major initiatives for training. The NCWE’s Going Green publication lists many of the efforts currently underway at the nation’s community colleges to prepare the local workforce for green projects. At this point there does seem to be a little tension between the two entities, which is to be expected. Local trainers should work at the local level to understand where training is taking place and who is providing it.
To understand how training will play out in your area we recommend that you are familiar with what sort of training is already available in your region. We imagine that the actual training will be provided in different ways in different areas. This will have a lot to do with who is most well positioned to actually provide the training.
Here are the key points to keep in mind when it comes to providing training or helping jobseekers understand what sort of green jobs they can pursue.