The green economy is coming -- some say it's already arrived -- and around the country new jobs and training programs are popping up rapidly, while old jobs are changing to align with sustainable practices. Green services and products are already in demand, and workforce development experts agree that this movement is going to have enormous impact on jobs of every level.
"This will affect all areas of the economy in ways we are only beginning to find out," says Julian L. Alssid, executive director of Workforce Strategy Center (WSC), an East Coast-based organization that consults with economic development agencies and educational institutions to help state and regional economies grow. "If we do this well, green will become a part of every job."
Green enthusiasts believe that blue collar and white collar will one day be ideas of the past, with "green" collar leading the way of the future. Do you know how your job could change to "go green"? And could the green economy present an opportunity for you to increase your marketability and earning power?
Going Green: Opportunities for Low-Cost Training
One of the unique features of the green economy movement is its efforts to include the poor and socially disadvantaged as a starting point for change. According to Marcy Drummond, vice president of workforce and economic development for Los Angeles Trade-Tech College (LATTC), in most economic shifts, "The poor are first to be left behind. We wanted them to be first [to succeed]."
Over the past three years, this LA community college has pioneered team-taught, comprehensive programs aimed at overcoming traditional barriers that underprivileged students have in attaining a degree and long-term, gainful employment. A range of green certifications are available at LATTC, from solar panel installation and weatherization to sustainable architecture and landscaping. Program lengths range from just a couple of weeks to two years for a certificate.
Programs like these aren't solely for the underprivileged, however, and the first place to look for a similar program in your area is your local community college. Drummond says that more and more programs are going to be available in the near future, especially because much of the stimulus money will be funneled to these institutions first.
The Green-Collar Office Job
If you don't work in the energy industry, green may still have an impact on your position. Vicki Krantz, director of business and professional programs at UC San Diego Extension, is seeing that, "Really smart firms are thinking about every stage of the life of their product." And this goes far beyond just production, packaging, and transportation.
UCSD Extension is one of the first institutions to start green training from the business point of view, training students to incorporate sustainability into all levels of an organization. Accountants can take carbon accounting classes to track a company's carbon footprint. Marketers can develop skills in green marketing so that their claims to be a green company are valid. Managers can take classes on how to include sustainability into corporate strategies.
Though a lot of buzz is on emerging clean tech, solar tech, and bio fuels, according to Krantz, the best businesses of any industry are going to set the vision for sustainability and encourage all employees to translate that into their discipline -- from the receptionist who reduces paper use to the CEO who makes fewer business flights each year.
The Green CEO and Entrepreneur
If there's any evidence that the green movement has begun from the ground up, it's shown in how few business leaders are prepared to enter the highly regulated energy field. They want a piece of the pie, though, so they're learning quickly.
Charley Polachi, partner and co-founder of Polachi Inc., has been a member of the steering committee for the Clean Energy Fellowship Program, a course started in early 2008, designed for CEOs and entrepreneurs who want to get into clean tech industries.
The unique feature of clean tech is the degree to which it is regulated -- there are a whole new set of rules and a large infrastructure already in place that business leaders need to understand before jumping in. In the Clean Energy Fellowship Program, entrepreneurs and CEOs learn how to navigate the regulation, come up with funding and develop partnerships with very big companies so that their innovations can become a part of the larger energy infrastructure.
This program was the first of its kind in the country, and admission is highly selective. However, there is a lot of interest in expanding, and other organizations have been looking at the Clean Energy Fellowship program as a model to prepare future green-business leaders.
Green Works: Fast-Track to a Well-Paid Job?
"All you need to know is there's a lot of money, in terms of training," says Alssid of WSC. The stimulus package and consumer demand are supporting huge investments into programs that help to "green" jobs. However, Alssid also cautions, "This is in a totally emergent state ... it will be up to the individual to zero in on those places that are doing this well. So do your homework."
The importance of community colleges shouldn't be underestimated. They have the resources to create programs quickly, and they will be the first to access stimulus funds. Workforce training centers are also great places to ask for help, and every state has their own way of organizing them -- search "your state" and "workforce development" on the Internet to find one in your area. In addition, websites such as GreenForAll.org, CareerVoyages.gov, and Online.OnetCenter.org have excellent information on career outlooks, training programs and financial assistance.
"If you take advantage of this now, it'll be an edge. Within a couple of years it will be standard," predicts Krantz of UCSD Extension. "Don't think of this as a passing fad at all. This is the new normal."
For the underprivileged, the green economy and funding for training present a great opportunity for increased earning potential. For those already in a busy career, going green may be inevitable, so becoming a leader in the movement could pay off long-term.