Sunday, March 01, 2009

Green Energy, Green Jobs, Greenbacks

While employers are continuing to lay-off significant numbers of people, there are some jobs that are still begging to be filled. Among them are technician slots for renewable energy projects such as wind farms already in place. With President Obama's press for more clean energy, including money in the recently passed stimulus package, renewable energy projects should increase in size and in number, which means more "green collar" jobs. The trick is now getting workers trained to fill those jobs. Today's Los Angeles Times has an article which details the so far limited training programs.

For those who can hack it, starting pay ranges from $15 to $20 an hour. Crack technicians can make six figures a year. Wind farms are hiring and probably will be for years to come. That's luring hard hats like 49-year-old Chuck Patterson back to school, despite the inherent risks of working 300 feet in the air.

"This is where the money's going to be," said the Ridgecrest, Calif., contractor, who likes the idea of a steady paycheck after years of construction boom and bust.

As in previous recessions, this economic downturn is boosting enrollment at community colleges and vocational schools. Classrooms are swelling with workers from hard-hit industries who are looking to change careers.

Educators say the difference this time is the surging interest in so-called green-collar jobs. President Obama wants to create 5 million of them over the next decade. What isn't clear is how the U.S. is going to prepare this workforce.

Technical education for renewable-energy workers is scarce, particularly for the fast-growing wind industry. Only a handful of wind programs operate in community colleges. Cerro Coso [Kern County, California] filled the 15 slots in its boot camp within hours. The next course is already full.

Why so few training programs to fill an obvious need? Well, state budgets across the nation are straining, and, unfortunately, education budgets have been slashed. Community colleges just don't have the wherewithal to institute such programs, although the latest boost from the federal government may offset those budgetary constraints. If so, I think we'll see a lot more of these types of programs being instituted, especially in states with already operating wind farms.

The work, like a lot of construction work, is physically challenging and dangerous. The technician has to perform this job 300 feet up (30 stories) and work around huge spinning blades and high voltage electricity. To get to "the office" requires the technician to climb a skinny ladder several times a day, which is not a job for someone who isn't reasonably fit, is afraid of heights, smokes, or has bad knees. Still, it's steady work at good pay, and employers are hiring now.

This is what green energy supporters have been trying to get across to the rest of the country. New clean energy sources, properly funded (governmentally or privately) can be a boon to the economy and not just in the long run. Fortunately, leaders such as President Obama understand that.

I am reasonably optimistic.

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Blogger Alisa said...

There is room for optimism that community colleges will be able to provide the job training for green jobs and others that may be generated from the stimulus package. Examples can be found in a report called "Building Tomorrow's Workforce: Promoting the Education & Advancement of Hispanic Immigrant Workers in America" found at

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Imee said...

This is really great... Jobs, money, a better & cleaner environment... what more do we need? Sure, the green energy industry is relatively new, but that's where all the government-funded training and schooling comes in. I hope this really pushes through, and well at that.

1:53 AM  
Anonymous Bowling Green State University Jobs said...

If you want a green job, you need to go to Jobnob and see what they have available. They list jobs for over 100,000 different companies.

12:31 PM  

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