Training the “Green and White” Collar Workforce

September 12, 2009

by David L. Levy

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts announced September 1st nearly $1 million in  grants for educational programs that will enhance training for the state’s burgeoning clean energy industry. This is good news for climate change, for Massachusetts, and particularly for me, because a group I’m leading at the University of Massachusetts, Boston was awarded $187,000 for a program entitled Business and Professional Education for the Clean Energy Economy. The project will be coordinated through the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness (SERC) in the College of Management at the University. While other grants focus on vocational training and “green and blue” collar jobs, such as installation and maintenance of renewables and efficiency, our program builds higher education capacity for the rapidly expanding “green and white” collar job opportunities in a low-carbon economy.

green white collar The transition to a low carbon economy will entail radical technological and market change that promises to transform entire industries. There is an urgent need for a major education initiative to prepare for and manage the impending transition. Clean energy jobs have been growing at a rate of 9.1% in the US over the past decade, compared with only 3.7% for traditional jobs, according to a report issued this June by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew identifies five categories of the clean energy economy: (1) Clean Energy; (2) Energy Efficiency; (3) Environmentally Friendly Production; (4) Conservation and Pollution Mitigation; and (5) Training and Support. Although 65 percent of today’s clean energy economy jobs are in the category of Conservation and Pollution Mitigation (mostly recycling and wastewater treatment) but three other categories – Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency and Environmentally Friendly Production – are growing at a much faster pace.

Some of the sectors, such as windows, insulation, and water treatment, are not exactly what comes to mind when we think about clean tech, more old-economy than high-tech solar. But the growth in green job opportunities will extend well beyond renewables into electronics, software, financial services, and education (see this comprehensive list of reports on green jobs in the US.). Organizations of every type will be seeking “green and white” collar professionals with appropriate expertise. In fact, two new studies on the green labor market argue that an important prerequisite for employees in the new economy is general education in sustainability concepts and climate in particular.

My research with Dr. David Terkla revealed that in the Boston region there are large numbers of software and electronics firms capable of providing the sensors and controls for power management and energy efficiency, for smart buildings or connecting renewables to the grid. Most of these companies don’t currently identify themselves with clean tech. A recent Marketwatch story pointed to energy services and controls, often part of much larger companies, as important beneficiaries of the clean energy economy. Honeywell’s Automation and Control Solutions division, for example, which accounts for 38% of revenue and 32% of operating profits, provides environmental controls for buildings.

The clean energy economy will generate a large number of managerial and administrative jobs in non-energy sectors. A majority of large businesses in the US and Europe already produce annual sustainability and social responsibility reports, and are extending this to the climate issue. The proposed EPA guidelines on mandatory carbon reporting in the US, the advent of carbon trading, and voluntary carbon management and disclosure will affect almost every business. The need to track, manage, and report carbon across the value chain will create new demands on corporate management and open up large new markets for service firms, particularly consulting, legal, software, and accounting. eQuilibrium Solutions Inc., a Boston area software firm specializing in carbon and energy efficiency management software was just bought out by EnerNOC, indicating the buzz of activity in this field. Meanwhile, financial firms are becoming more directly engaged in carbon trading, financing clean energy, and assessing the impact of carbon risk on assets and loan portfolios.

Environmental skills and knowledge are increasingly valued in the employment market. In a recent survey titled “The Engaged Organization: Corporate Employee Environmental Education Survey and Case Study Findings” by the National Environmental Education Foundation, 65% of businesses surveyed said they value environmental and sustainability knowledge in job candidates and 78% said that that value will appreciate as a hiring factor in the next five years. Carbon footprinting, emissions reduction, and energy efficiency were key areas identified. Clean energy-related jobs also have better conditions than those in other sectors. A recent survey of 1200 clean energy professionals indicated that they enjoyed higher salaries and more job security than workers in other sectors.

The employment impact of a transition to a low-carbon economy will reach beyond business to affect government and non-profit organizations. Policymakers and planners will increasingly need to be familiar with market-based and regulatory mechanisms for addressing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, power, industry, and buildings. Demand is growing rapidly for environmental and climate-related education at all levels and for the teachers with the expertise to deliver these programs. Despite the current budgetary environment, this is one area where our university will be looking to hire in the next few years.

The initiative at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, will provide the workforce with the skills and knowledge needed to play more effective roles as professionals, policymakers, and business managers. The College of Management will collaborate with the Department of Environmental, Earth, and Ocean Sciences to develop new interdisciplinary degree and certificate programs at the graduate and undergraduate levels that build on existing campus strengths in the science, business, politics, economics, and policy dimensions of clean energy and climate change. We will also extend and develop existing programs to bring a sharper focus on clean energy and the workforce skills demanded in a low-carbon energy efficient economy. The core programs are being designed for professionals seeking focused, compact, and low-cost career development, and will be valuable for mid-career professionals as well for degree students seeking a unique qualification.

I’m proud to lead this initiative to UMass-Boston, a public university capable of delivering high quality, accessible, and cost effective education to a wide range of traditional and non-traditional students. The university has a strong commitment to diversity, serving disadvantaged communities, and promoting regional economic development. The certificate programs are part of a broader environmental and clean energy education initiative at UMass-Boston, including the development of a Professional Science Masters program, which will support a cluster of clean energy capabilities in the state that will increase the competitiveness of the region, increasing investment and employment with clean energy firms and related service sectors.

3 Responses to “Training the “Green and White” Collar Workforce”

  1. Thank you for this post. I am finishing up my MBA at Fordham University in NYC and will be getting a designation in Global Sustainability. My exposure has led me to the belief that firms who manage towards sustainability will be the leaders or indeed survivors of the business world. Today’s “sustainability” movement seems to be very close to the “quality” movement of the past -where those who embraced the quality movement were rewarded (think Toyota).

    My search for a job that contributes in some tangible way to the sustainability equation has been elusive, but your post gives me hope. Especially inspiring were the studies that found that “an important prerequisite for employees in the new economy is general education in sustainability concepts and climate in particular.”

  2. [...] at an energy efficiency organization serving the inner city. His enthusiasm for our plans for Clean Energy Workforce Training programs was palpable and infectious – he wanted to sign up right away. He didn’t just want [...]

  3. Rensselaer Polytech (RPI) is offering a MS in Sustainable Enterprise Mgmt. Great program!