With unemployment in New Jersey at 8.2 percent, the highest since 1993, the current “unprecedented climate” for jobs in the green sector may offer a glimmer of hope to people searching for new work, says Jennifer Cleary of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.
Cleary will discuss the outlook for green jobs in the state at “Green Now! Women Leading the Way in Science & Technology,” the third annual New Jersey Council on Gender Parity’s Women in the Science and Technology Workforce Summit on Friday, June 5, at 8:30 a.m. at the Mercer County Community College Conference Center in West Windsor. The event is free, but registration is required. Visit www.cww.rutgers.edu.
The New Jersey Council on Gender Parity was established to oversee the state’s efforts to provide gender equity in labor, education and training. The day will include a video presentation by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, who most recently served as New Jersey Commissioner of Environmental Protection. There will also be a panel discussion on New Jersey green initiatives in education and the workforce titled, “It Is Easier than You Think to Be Green.” Panelists include Kenny Esser, chief energy advisor to Governor Jon Corzine; Florence Block, executive eirector of U.S. Green Building Council’s New Jersey office; Valerie Montecalvo, president and CEO of Bayshore Recycling; and Safiyah Sadiq, co-founder in the establishment of the Barack Obama Charter School in Plainfield.
Breakout sessions at the conference will focus on sustainability policies and how they translate into initiative for education and workforce development, re-tooling incumbent workers for new green jobs, undergraduate science education for a new workforce, and emerging fields in the green workforce.
Cleary, a senior project manager for the Heldrich Center at Rutgers University will also discuss the outlook for green jobs in New Jersey. Representatives from the center testified recently before Congress on their research into the future of green jobs, both in New Jersey and nationally.
What’s a green job? One of the biggest difficulties in predicting the number of jobs in the green sector is the wide variety of definitions of “green job” that can be found. “In its broadest definition, a green job is one that reduces pollution. It can include everything from bike messengers to park rangers,” Cleary explains.
However, such a broad definition was not particularly practical when attempting to identify specific job categories that will be increasing in the immediate future. “I don’t think we are going to see a big increase in demand for either of those two particular jobs here in New Jersey anytime soon,” she says.
The researchers at the center attempted to take a more pragmatic approach in their study. “After looking at the overall current economic climate, the relatively low price of oil, and the low probability of a breakthrough in new energy technology in the immediate future, we concluded that the current primary driver for jobs in the green sector is public policy,” she says. In other words, programs developed through the economic stimulus package as well as current government incentives such as tax rebates for increasing the energy efficiency of commercial and residential buildings are the most likely sources of new green jobs in the immediate future.
Because of the time lag in getting the money for these types of programs into the hands of state and local governments, demand for new workers will most likely begin in late summer or early fall. However, she emphasizes, it is still unclear exactly how many new jobs will be created.
Cleary has worked for the Heldrich Center since 2000. Her work focuses on understanding the skills and educational needs of workers in New Jersey. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers in 1992, a master’s degree from Rutgers in public affairs and politics in 2003, and is currently working on her doctorate in urban planning and public policy.
Blue collar vs. white collar. The good news, she says, is that jobs will be developing in all economic and educational levels. While the idealized view of green jobs is often that of a scientist working in a lab to develop new technology, that is only one type of job that will become available. We will need a certain number of scientists and researchers to develop new technologies, but we will also need manufacturers and manufacturing jobs to actually make the new technologies, auditors to access energy efficiency, and skilled workers who can retrofit or install equipment or technology in homes and businesses.
“Residential energy efficiency is easy for governments to fund,” says Cleary, and this is the area where jobs will develop the most quickly. Several programs are currently available or are planned that will give homeowners rebates for improving the energy efficiency of their homes. Programs that reward homeowners for replacing appliances or heating and cooling systems with new, more energy efficient models, weatherizing their homes, or installing solar panels will create an immediate need for people in a variety of construction trades.
“The people most likely to benefit are people who already have training in this area,” says Cleary. If you are already an electrician, a plumber, or an HVAC technician she expects you will find an increased demand for residential work throughout the fall.
The problem with these type of programs, however, is that homeowners must first put out the money for the repairs or upgrades before receiving the reimbursement. “In the current economic climate it is also difficult to predict how many people will be willing to spend the money,” she says.
Further in the future there will be additional opportunities for people to work on the construction of wind farms that the state government is planning along the coast. Many of these jobs will also be in the construction trades, Cleary says.
Energy auditors. One new green job that will be needed in the immediate future is that of energy auditor. An auditor assesses a home or business’ current energy use and suggests ways in which improvements can be made. The energy auditor will need training says Cleary, and once again she predicts that people who are already experienced in the building trades are in the best position to take advantage of this new field.
“You need to understand the basics of how buildings work, the electrical system, the heating system before you can assess where improvements can be made,” she says. People who already have this background will need the least training and will be ready to step into these quickly.
How many jobs? While it is easiest to predict the types of jobs, particularly new jobs, that will be needed in green areas, it is not so easy to predict specific numbers. Because unemployment is already high in construction, many new green jobs may be taken by people who are currently laid off, rather than by employees who are completely new to the workforce. The same is true for energy audit positions.
“One of the new green technologies are the smart meters that energy companies will install in people’s homes,” says Cleary. The new smart meters allow residents to more closely monitor their own energy usage, and they also communicate electronically directly with the energy company, avoiding the need for meter readers. “As the smart meters come into use the energy companies will need fewer meter readers. One way to avoid laying off current workers is to retrain them as energy auditors,” she says. “It may be that in this case green technology will become a way to repurpose workers rather than laying them off, but will really not add a significant number of new jobs.”
The final number of new green jobs created in the next year will depend on a variety of factors, says Cleary. Money must first be appropriated by various federal, state or local agencies, then the rules on how to spend those dollars must be made. Finally, consumers must “buy in” and begin to spend money for energy audits and new more energy efficient technology.
“New policies are being made even as we speak that will affect the employment numbers down the road,” says Cleary. “Right now, on the subject of jobs in the green industry we have more questions than answers.”