Green education resources
Advanced Technology Environmental and Energy Center, ateec.org
In today’s fragile post-recession workplace, few economic sectors seem to hold as much promise for job seekers as renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency (EE). A cottage industry has sprung up to train workers for these so-called green-collar jobs. Credentials range from week-long certificate programs to two-year technical degrees.
The reason for all this interest is obvious. “On a national level, job growth is forecast to be about 2% over the next year in the overall economy, but the forecast is for about 3.75% growth in the RE and EE sectors,” says Philip Jordan, president of Green LMI, a labor market intelligence consulting firm.
He notes that both the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census data do not offer a detailed look at green job titles. “Government data versus employer reports is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but the conclusion is that there appears to be substantially greater job growth in the RE and EE industries than in other industries,” he says.
Jordan also points out that while RE jobs are growing faster than EE jobs, there are simply many more EE jobs. However, a lot of the jobs in both areas are lowlevel positions, handling such tasks as installing solar panels and weatherizing homes.
That said, Jordan reports both RE and EE firms are having a hard time filling engineering and engineering technician positions. The reason, Jordan suspects, is because engineers may be looking in the wrong places for job opportunities.
“Engineers may not picture themselves working at a construction company or at a large solar installation firm, though that’s where many are needed. Utilities are another place where engineers may find unfilled openings,” he says. And the green job market is geographically spotty. “The green job outlook varies by region, with states like California experiencing higher growth than other parts of the country, due to its sheer size plus heavy and deep investments in renewable energy technologies,” he says.
The American Solar Energy Society (ASES) reports the RE and EE industries could account for more than 37 million U.S. jobs by 2030 if the right factors align. ASES says that the RE industry has expanded three times faster than the overall U.S. economy since 2007, with photovoltaic, solar thermal, biodiesel, and ethanol sectors each with more than 25% annual revenue growth.
Of course, alternative energy depends heavily on government subsidies. The fickleness of legislative mandates in this area can dramatically impact employment prospects. Brad Collins, ASES executive director, cautions that substantial growth will only come with the right leadership, research, and public policy. For this reason, a recent ASES report on green jobs presents three scenarios: best case (37 million jobs by 2030), moderate policy changes (19.5 million jobs), and business as usual (16 million jobs).
ASES says the hottest job titles include electricians, mechanical engineers, welders, metal workers, construction managers, accountants, analysts, environmental scientists, and chemists. However, the majority of jobs found in RE and EE industries will be held by the same type of support personnel who populate other industries, including factory workers, accountants, and IT experts. A plus is that it will be impractical to outsource many of these jobs to other countries.
“Putting distributed solar in homes and buildings requires local labor,” says Seth Masia, deputy editor of ASES publication Solar Today. “These installations must be permitted, built, and serviced locally, even if the panels themselves are manufactured in China or elsewhere.”
Masia sees a bright spot for manufacturing in states like Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. As he explains, solar module manufacturing greatly resembles glass manufacturing, and companies such as Dow Corning in western New York are ramping up their facilities to produce solar panels. Likewise, he says, machinery and facilities for making engine parts in the Midwest can be converted fairly easily to making parts for wind turbines.
Universities and two-year colleges are rapidly expanding course offerings in both renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) hosts a site serving as a clearinghouse of information about educational programs across the country. (Visit irecusa.org and go to “Programs,” then “Workforce Development.”) It includes a directory of university courses covering four-year colleges that offer undergraduate as well as graduate programs. Another section on training providers covers shorter programs including workshops and hands-on training. New courses are added continuously. The list is not accredited by IREC, but it provides a fairly comprehensive and growing directory of available programs.
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And it looks as though accreditation standards are coming for green coursework. IREC is implementing what’s called the Institute for Sustainable Power Quality framework of standards to compare content, quality, and resources across a range of training programs covering renewable energy, energy efficiency, and distributed generation technologies.
Pat Fox, IREC director of operations, advises that working energy practitioners may also want to consider getting certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.
For these and other job and training opportunities, the IREC Web site section called “Workforce Links” connects to green- job boards as well as career information and links to organizations like UL University and the Association for Energy Engineers.
UL University is an ISO 9001 registered function of UL, and offers such courses as a PV System Installer certification program open to licensed electricians. AEE also hosts seminars and tests for engineers already working in the energy field. For example, the organization offers a course on the fundamentals of energy auditing ,along with a certification exam.
Finally, another useful resource for locating environmental and energy technology programs at two-year colleges is the Advanced Technology Environmental and Energy Center at ateec.org. A Programs Database there provides listings of both degree and certificate programs.