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Sunday, April 26, 2009

What the “green collar” economy means for you

Construction workers, iStockPhoto

The economic stimulus plan approved by the House allocates over $100 billion for green projects. While there is sure to be political back and forth in the coming days, one thing is certain, no matter what the ultimate outcome: We're going to be hearing a lot more about "green collar" jobs.

So, what exactly is a "green collar" job, and more importantly, how do you get one? There's no definitive term just yet, but here's the short answer according to Pete Altman at the Natural Resources Defense Council: "A green job is just like a regular job only the result of what you are making or doing is good for the environment."

And, it turns out that what's good for the environment is going to be good for America's workforce. A reportfrom the University of Amherst Massachusetts says that a $100 billion investment in green programs would create about two million jobs over two years. About 750,000 green jobs already exist, according to a 2008 U.S. Conference of Mayors' report.

Many of the so-called "green" jobs are familiar and don't require significant retraining."If you are a machinist building pipeline equipment, you could just as easily be a machinist building wind turbine equipment," says Altman.

Green jobs have the potential to replace jobs in declining sectors such as manufacturing, construction, and auto manufacturing. "The biggest jobs are going to be in maintaining wind turbines and installing solar panels," says Jackie Roberts of the Environmental Defense Fund. In order to bring costs down, solar panels are going to need to be manufactured more like automobiles. The production-line experience of autoworkers will translate well into solar, for example.

Investments in one sector will have widespread effects. A boost in building retrofitting, for example, will create the need for electricians, heating and air conditioning installers, carpenters, roofers, and building inspectors, and others. "You can't send a whole building to China and then bring it back. The work has to be done here," says Altman.

Across the board, we'll see more jobs for the following professions: Engineers, Electricians, Carpenters, Welders, Machinists, Truck Drivers, Sheet Metal Workers. You can get a better sense of specific jobs and salaries in this report from Environmental Defense Fund. It's also worth checking out the website for a Green Jobs Expo that's taking place in Washington DC next week.


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