The Green Jobs Sector Continues Upward Momentum

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The green jobs sector is robust and getting stronger by the year. In fact, the median salary in a green job is $76,530/year – 31% more than the national median salary for the US workforce at $58,260. Not only is the overall growth rate for green jobs higher than for the overall workforce (+7.7%), some of the green occupations are among the fastest growing in the entire country.

Clean energy jobs are on a growth trajectory, while dirty energy jobs are stagnating or declining. These jobs are projected to grow 8.6% and add 114,300 jobs over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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In the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) definition, green jobs are “positions in agriculture, manufacturing, R&D, administrative, and service activities aimed at substantially preserving or restoring environmental quality.” An estimated 875,000 Americans work in “green jobs” – jobs to do with the environment, sustainability, renewable energy, conservation, and recycling.

The 2022 US Energy and Employment Report (USEER) analysis shows that energy jobs have rebounded after Covid-19 shutdowns. Nearly all clean energy sub-technologies added jobs from 2020 through 2021.

  • The transmission, distribution, and storage sector employed more than 1.3 million people in 2021.
  • The energy efficiency sector employed 2,164,914 people in 2021 in the design, installation, and manufacturing of energy efficiency products and services.
  • Renewable energy added the most new jobs in the electricity generation sector from 2020 to 2021.
  • Solar employment increased 5.4%, while wind employment grew 2.9%.

Recent Findings about the Green Jobs Sector

A June analysis from Promoleaf revealed a number of optimistic and useful findings regarding the green jobs sector. For example, based on an analysis of figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*NET, green jobs are set to grow at a rate of 8.6% over the next decade, with a predicted 114,300 new jobs to be added to the green workforce in that time.

Green jobs in renewable energy are fastest-growing: Wind turbine technician jobs are set to grow by 68%, Solar photovoltaic installers by 52% in the next decade.

The top ten green occupations employing the most workers in the US in 2022: Refuse and recyclable material collectors, occupational health and safety specialists, and environmental scientists and specialists are the top occupations that employ the most people. Natural sciences managers (52,000) and environmental engineers (50,900) are by far the two occupations with the most vacancies as of May, 2022. Wind turbine service technicians and solar photovoltaic installers ranked as the top two jobs set for the greatest growth rates over the next decade.

Salaries: The median annual salary in green occupations in 2022 as compared to media salary in the US: 8 out of 10 top-paying green jobs offer salaries of $100,000 or more per year. Topping the list are natural sciences managers – a shorthand occupation for managers of scientific labs and R&D departments in companies. These workers enjoy a salary of $137,900 per year.

States that are leading the way in green jobs: At the state level, Alaska, Colorado, and Washington are all states where green jobs are nearly at 1% of the workforce, or ≈40% higher than expected based on the national average.

Green occupations with the largest number of job openings: Among the green jobs with the highest number of postings as of May, 2022 are occupations in environmental science, occupational health & safety, and recycling.

The New Reality of Auto Assembly & the Green Jobs Sector

The auto manufacturing sector is in the midst of a philosophical shift, and with that comes a transitional workforce. Car companies are shifting their resources to expand their electric fleets, according to a report from NPR. This process will significantly impact the auto workforce, from blue collar workers to engineers who have devoted their careers to developing gas engines and transmission. Then again, EVs have fewer parts, and making them will eventually require fewer workers. On top of that, the auto industry for years has been moving toward increased automation.

But there is still hope for good employment in the auto industry. For example, to meet the skyrocketing demand for the Ford F-150 Lightning, the company has been retraining many of its gas powered assembly line workers and transferring them to the electric plant, which Ford is currently expanding to double in size.

EVs require millions more lines of code than their gas powered counterparts. Software engineers are now becoming ideal auto employees. A shortage of software engineers is expected to grow to almost 1.2 million by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Universities are offering more courses central to electrification and battery powered systems, but they’re also struggling to find instructors for some essential courses.

Unstuck in the Middle: The Value of Middle Skills, Reimagined

The US labor market has been evolving, and leaving in its wake a wide ecosystem of jobs that are loosely known as “middle skill” positions. This term has been widely used to describe any job that requires more than a high school diploma but less than a 4 year degree. While that range may sound limiting, quite the opposite is true. The majority of jobs in the US now fall under this umbrella.

In fact, so-called “middle skill” positions now make up the majority of the US labor market. But, by suggesting a homogeneous middle level of skills, the term threatens to undervalue the level of skill acquisition required for success in these roles, which are often highly skilled and specialized.

Simply put, a bachelor’s degree is not essential for most good jobs anymore.

In a comprehensive whitepaper generated by Whiteboard Advisors, the notion of “middle skill” is reimagined and better articulated as a skills spectrum. “Unstuck in the Middle” reviews the market’s evolution and makes the case for a new taxonomy of skills attainment. The proposed skills spectrum will enable employers to close their growing skills gaps by better defining their labor needs while also empowering workers to better identify their own skills and experiences.

The authors of this whitepaper argue that we need a new way of conceptualizing middle skills, and we need it quickly as the urgency of a widening skills gap is growing. We need a taxonomy of skills that reflects the diversity of these jobs and enables more specific, actionable insight to inform the development of innovative policies, educational experiences, and skills-based hiring practices.

Final Thoughts about the Green Jobs Sector

Green jobs tend to be systematically different than those that are either neutral or in carbon emitting industries. Certainly, transitioning out of pollution intensive jobs into green jobs may pose challenges. When the Biden administration announced ambitious climate goals that require determined policy actions and pitched the green transition as an opportunity to create new, unionized, high paying jobs, it ushered in an era of workforce change. Greener jobs tend to be held by workers that earn higher income, are more skilled, are less subject to automation, and live in urban areas. The Inflation Reduction Act will support a green jobs sector, and, taken as a whole, the green transition will necessitate a shift in labor markets.

This will be a complex process — much more than just moving workers from polluting to green jobs). Workers are likely to move to neutral jobs with similar average pay levels on average. Environmental regulations can prove an effective tool to help incentivize the transition from polluting to green jobs and can do so without negatively affecting overall employment or average pay.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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