Welcome back to the Grist review of the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference last week in Pittsburgh. In my last post, I gave it two thumbs up and noted that Van Jones was particularly outstanding in one of the lead roles.
Let’s continue this conversation with a particularly hot topic these days. Based on your questions and the response to my previous column on defining the green job economy, it’s clear that everyone’s wondering how the rapidly growing green jobs movement is going to define “green jobs.” Here’s what folks at the conference had to say about it:
Focusing first on energy, building, and transportation
Although numerous speakers repeated the mantra that “all jobs will be green jobs in the new green economy,” discussions in the breakout sessions were more helpful. Sarah White and Jason Walsh, co-authors of “Greener Pathways: Jobs and workforce development” report, wrote bluntly that, “broadly defined ‘green jobs’ are not a salient category for policy innovation or workforce training.” Calling green jobs “an evocative but ambiguous term,” they urged local people to target specific sectors of clean energy-related industries as a focal point for “green jobs” initiatives.
Taking their own advice, they put forward the following definition, which won the endorsement of most of the people I shared it with:
“Green jobs are family-supporting, middle-skill jobs in the primary sectors of a clean-energy economy — efficiency, renewables, and alternative transportation and fuels.”
Fair enough. Everyone I talked to agreed that of course the world of green jobs will ultimately go far beyond the solar energy, wind power, energy efficiency, green building, and biofuels industries identified by the “Greener Pathways” definition. As someone who works with lots of people in forestry, pollution control, organic agriculture, land-use planning, solid and hazardous waste management, and so forth, I couldn’t agree more.
And everyone knows that some local areas will certainly decide to focus their “green jobs” strategies outside of the energy, transport, and building sectors. For the current moment, however, the green jobs movement in most places is focused primarily on clean energy and efficient green buildings to link climate change actions with economic development opportunities. That makes sense.
Given these focus areas, which job titles turn up often as “green-collar jobs” to focus on?
Overwhelmingly, they are job titles familiar to those in the manufacturing and building trades. We’re talking about laborers, sheet-metal workers, cement masons, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) workers, carpenters, plumbers, welders, electricians, skilled machine operators, insulation workers — you get the picture.
These are the people who will produce the dozens of component parts that go into wind turbines and solar energy systems … and then assemble and manufacture the final products … and install and maintain them. These are the people who will build and maintain a new transportation infrastructure that doesn’t depend so heavily on automobiles. They will construct new types of cars that are less environmentally destructive and wasteful, and manufacture the car components, too.
These are the people who will retrofit millions of existing homes, schools, and commercial buildings to be more energy-efficient. And produce the efficient appliances and green building materials needed to complete the retrofits. And, of course, construct and maintain new LEED-certified buildings everywhere.
And these are the people who will work in the factories that produce the new generations of biofuels that we assume will produce fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than the fossil fuels they aim to replace.
Some of the positions are newer — energy auditors, solar system specialists, and wind power installers, for starters. But far more are existing job types that will “go green” with both updated skills and emerging certifications.
Can anything be done to target green job creation in those fields to people who need jobs most?
Here is one of the central challenges of the green jobs movement. It’s very hard to create good jobs with strong wages, decent benefits, and strong career tracks. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s also hard to recruit, hire, train, and retain a high-quality workforce. But it’s really, really hard to do both with a focus on people who are being left behind by a globalizing economy on technological steroids.
But there are tools, according to the leaders of the green jobs movement who met in Pittsburgh.
One of them is a strong political movement of people who care about the goal and agree to fight to ensure jobs for low-income people, people of color, and people with barriers to employment, like people who have served time in jails and prisons.
A second involves linking public “green” investments to local employment for targeted communities through “good neighbor” agreements and local hiring requirements.
And a third tool is the development and funding of job training programs that meet the special needs of people who are “looking up at the first rung” of the job training ladder, like the “Green Jobs Corps” programs mentioned in my earlier post.
To stay in touch with the people who are doing this work, or to join them, check in regularly at the Green Jobs and Service Collaborative Online Clearinghouse.