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Study: Most green jobs aren't what you imagine

Sara Miller
via Flickr
New numbers reveal surprising findings about where green workers are hanging their hats.

Early results from a New York State Department of Labor study on the state's green workforce show most of New York's green laborers aren't solar panel installers or wind turbine technicians.

"We were expecting a lot more of these new jobs, or newfangled jobs," says Kevin Hannell, who headed the Department of Labor's study.

The study found just 1,400 photovoltaic installers in the state. The total number of green workers statewide added up to 180,000.

More jobs in existing occupations

In construction trades, 76,600 green workers made up 34 percent of the entire sector. Just over 10,000 of those jobs are in heating and air conditioning installation.

65,770 more green jobs were in building services.

That's the bright spot: large numbers of workers in construction - a field hit hard by the downturn - are retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient. Janitors and building staff are doing green cleaning and recycling.

"There are a lot of people out there continuing to transition to green," notes Hannell. "A lot of people [are] doing work in renewable energy and energy efficiency, but [this work] doesn't require as many new skills as people would think. People are being able to do these jobs with existing skill sets."

Hannell says the green sector will continue to add new jobs. The study found 7 percent of firms without green employees expected to add at least one green job in the coming year.

At 2 percent, "green" still makes up a larger percentage of New York's workforce compared to that of other states. However, the numbers temper high expectations for green jobs in the state and the nation - expectations that green collar jobs would offer higher wages and job stability for people who previously held blue collar jobs.

"Not going to be the panacea"

"It's not going to be the panacea some people think. It's not going to be able to solve all our problems," says Hannell. "Because even if we double the number of green jobs here, we'd still only be increasing the New York State workforce by 2 percent."

The million dollar study was paid for with money from the 2009 federal stimulus. Hannell says he's working on delivering usable numbers to job-seekers and the people who work with them. He says the goal is to share what the department has learned about where jobs are and what certifications employers are looking for.

"Moving target"

Last year at a presentation at Ithaca College, Paul Shatsoff, Director of Public Policy for the Workforce Development Institute, called green careers "a moving target."

"We don't know yet where things will settle [or] what standards will be," Shatsoff explained.

The labor department's Hannell says his agency's study tried to fix that.

"This was our very first attempt to go out there and actually try to measure the green economy in New York State," Hannell says.

The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has launched its own study to come up with a conclusive national number. National estimates are in the millions.

Former WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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