Green Jobs, Part 5: Chapter Two

Published on May 20, 2009

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Emsi Burning Glass

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Read Chapter one here

I. Understanding the Green Clusters and Associated Training

First, let’s review the status of two primary industry areas that will be affected by the green movement. These two industry sectors are Engineering and Construction (manufacturing will be, but manufacturing taken as a industry sector is too wide and disparate and the green economy will likely not impact a large proportion of these occupations). As a result, we will analyze the manufacturing jobs as they relate to the actual green clusters.

Engineering Training

A common thread in the green occupation clusters are engineering occupations. Whether it’s Computer software engineers for smart grid projects or Chemical engineers for the advanced biofuels cluster, these high-skill, high-wage jobs could be in great demand. Below is a table of trends, earnings, and training requirements for all engineering occupations found in green clusters.

These occupations require either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and programs in engineers are plentiful. The average earnings for these occupations is $36 per hour (roughly $68K per year). In general, the job outlook for these occupations is holding a lot more steady as compared to the construction and manufacturing clusters. Computer software engineers and environmental engineers are contributing to the growth. Civil engineers, Chemical engineers, and Electrical engineers are showing slight decline.

Related competency requirements for Engineering
In order to better understand the sort of training and background engineers must have, we have provided a list of the primary knowledge and skills areas for engineers. After analyzing the competencies of engineers, certain critical knowledge and skills stick out.

Here are some at the top of the knowledge and skill areas:
Knowledge: design, physics, mathematics, computers and electronics, chemistry
Skills: reading comprehension, complex problem solving, critical thinking, active learning

Computer software engineers, applications
Knowledge: computers and electronics, mathematics, telecommunications
Skills: programming, critical thinking, complex problem solving

Computer software engineers, systems software
Knowledge: computers and electronics, mathematics, English language
Skills: complex problem solving, technology design, troubleshooting

Chemical engineers
Knowledge: chemistry, mathematics, physics
Skills: complex problem solving, reading comprehension, active learning

Civil engineers
Knowledge: design, building and construction, mathematics
Skills: reading comprehension, critical thinking, complex problem solving

Civil engineering technicians
Knowledge: mathematics, design, computers and electronics
Skills: reading comprehension, active learning, critical thinking

Electrical engineers
Knowledge: computers and electronics, mathematics, English language
Skills: active listening, troubleshooting, critical thinking

These knowledge and skill areas also correspond to specific programs, which would be a little too complex and unwieldy to apply at the national level. We recommend that you map out these training programs for your area to see how much training is being provided and if it is starting to prepare workers specifically for green projects. If you would like to see programs associated with engineering in your area please contact us.

Again the work activities for green projects are not going to be very far from the normal scope of these jobs, and just a little new training would be required. Here are some other observations and suggestions offered by the CA Centers of Excellence relative to training engineers for the green economy:

New Skills and Competencies in Engineering:
“Environmental engineers work behind the scenes and are well-versed in biology and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. However, focus is expected to shift from controlling existing problems to preventing problems. Therefore, these engineers will need new knowledge and skills in prevention of environmental problems.”

“Mechanical engineers could be good candidates to transition into energy engineers. Energy engineers assist companies in reducing energy costs and making buildings more efficient. Mechanical engineers would need to acquire a new set of skills associated with energy efficiency and green building principles to be able to perform the job of an energy engineer.”

Recommendations to community colleges

  • “Strengthen relationships and agreements with four-year engineering programs at local universities, and strengthen partnerships with high schools and middle schools to develop pipelines

  • Offer courses that assist graduates in their preparation for the licensing exams.

  • Add courses to engineering technology programs that are more driven toward preparing environmental engineering technicians.”

Construction Occupations
Likewise, construction-related occupations are purported to be in great demand. Below is a look at trends for construction. These jobs pop up throughout the green clusters and certainly would be affected by “green” projects. With the housing bust, these occupations have taken quite a hit. The training tends to be on-the-job, and the wages average out to about $18 per hour ($34K). Carpenters and Electricians are experiencing some of the greatest decline —shedding some 7% of their total workforce.

Construction competency requirements

Construction managers
Knowledge: building and construction, administration and management, engineering and technology
Skills: critical thinking, reading comprehension, monitoring

Construction carpenters
Knowledge: building and construction, mathematics, design
Skills: mathematics, time management, active listening

Construction laborers
Knowledge: building and construction, mathematics, mechanical
Skills: active listening, coordination, speaking

Operating engineers
Knowledge: building and construction, mechanical, public safety and security
Skills: active listening, equipment maintenance, equipment selection

Knowledge: mechanical, building and construction, mathematics
Skills: critical thinking, active listening, operation monitoring

Painters, construction and maintenance
Knowledge: customer and personal service, English language, public safety and security
Skills: active listening, time management, coordination

Knowledge: building and construction, design, mathematics
Skills: installation, coordination, speaking

Construction and building inspectors
Knowledge: building and construction, English language, engineering and technology
Skills: critical thinking, active listening, speaking

Understanding Green Jobs and the Construction Sector
Let’s once again use an excerpt from the Centers of Excellence study to better understand the potential for the construction trades in the green economy:

“Green building firms are found in all sectors of construction, including commercial and industrial facilities, residential buildings, and among specialty trade contractors. The workforce impact will not only be felt in the construction industry, but also among those firms that are involved in green design (i.e. architects and planners), as well as firms that develop and produce green building materials. . . Green building ratings, particularly the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system implemented by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), play an important role in both providing a gold standard for builders to aim for, as well as certifying that a building or facility is as ‘green’ as it says.”

Construction skills that will be required:

“In the construction industry, and especially green building, cost estimators must have a comprehensive understanding of how the design process is implemented, including what ‘green’ building materials will work for a given design and how they should be priced. Because green construction requires different designs and uses different building materials, cost estimators are significantly impacted by green construction. A common perception is that green construction facilities are generally estimated to cost more than traditional construction facilities. Cost estimators unfamiliarity with green construction processes and materials may result in overestimating costs, rather than underestimating.  Therefore, a well-trained cost estimator is crucial for green building projects.”

As has been pointed out, training providers can respond by adding specific certifications to existing programs. A very good example of this comes from Grand Rapids Community College, which added the “Green Advantage – Environmental Certification” to its curriculum. Here is a description of the course:

“Green Advantage® is an environmental certification for building related practitioners – primarily contractors, subcontractors and trades people. Certified individuals have successfully passed the Green Advantage® Certification Exam demonstrating knowledge of current green building principles, materials, and techniques.”

Reviewing the Green Clusters

Now we will take a closer look at the skills, education, and training associated with the specific green clusters (Building/Retrofitting, Wind, Solar, Biofuels, Smart Grid, Mass Transit/Freight). Please note that in this section we will be looking at all the workers across all industries that staff these occupations, not just possible green ones. While we’ve used national county-level data below, the goal for planners should be to look at trends on a local or regional level to get a sense of what occupations (green or otherwise) are thriving or suffering.

Another important reminder is that although much of the data paint a bleak picture for the bulk of the clusters, they also mean there’s a multitude of available workers for start-up projects, etc.

1. Building Retrofitting

This occupation cluster is more or less tied to increased energy efficiency for homes, offices, and public buildings. First, notice that we have expanded our cluster (from the PERI list) to include a more exhaustive list of occupations. This was done based on the recommendation of the Association of General Contractors.


  • From 2008-2010 this cluster is on track to shed 390,000 jobs (a 5% decline). Furthermore, construction-related occupations, which can have a high rate of turnover did not replace very many workers.

  • The average earnings for these occupations is less than $18 per hour (avg. salary between $30,000-$34,000 annually).

  • Only one occupation requires a bachelor’s degree (Construction managers), and all others require only short- to long-term on the job training or work experience in a related field.

  • All of the occupations except Construction and building inspectors experienced decline.

  • Iron workers, Electricians, and Elevator installers and repairs have the highest associated wages, and Carpenter helpers and Industrial truck and tractor operators have the lowest.

2. Mass Transit/Freight Rail Cluster

This cluster primarily revolves around the transportation sector and construction related to road and structural projects (e.g. bridges, overpasses, etc.).

  • From 08-10 this cluster is also projected to take a very big hit (-340,000 jobs, 5% decline).

  • In this cluster, only three of the occupations require an associate’s degree or higher (Construction managers, Civil engineers, and Civil engineering assistants).

  • Quite a few of the occupations require high numbers of replacement workers.

  • The average earnings for this sector were also roughly $18 per hour ($34K per year). The highest wages are associated with Civil engineering, Locomotive engineering, and Railroad yardmasters. The lowest—Industrial truck drivers, Bus drivers, and Welders.

3. Smart Grid Cluster

The smart grid cluster is focused mostly on enhancing power generation technology, both with transmission and distribution grids. The idea is that better technology will lead to energy efficiency and savings, as well as increased reliability. Smart grid, according to an article in the Electronic Engineering Times, is a “broad term indicating a wide array of changes that could make today’s analog and closed electricity network more like the Internet in the way it is remotely and openly monitored and managed.”

  • This cluster is set to shed 240K jobs (4%) from 08-10. Of the 13 occupations associated with the smart grid cluster, seven require a bachelor’s or associate’s degree.

  • The average earnings for this sector are $21 per hour (roughly $40K per year).

  • The two Computer software engineers occupations are experiencing significant growth. In addition the replacement jobs associated with these occupations were very significant.

  • The lowest earners in this sector are Team assemblers, Construction laborers, and Electronic equipment assemblers.

  • Electrical powerline installers also has a good job outlook and lots of replacement jobs.

  • Finally, Electrical engineers seems like a promising career. Even though there were not as many new jobs, there seems to be a significant amount of replacement jobs and the earnings ($38 per hour, $72K per year) are very good. Many of the sectors within renewable energy and energy efficiency require electrical engineers and/or electrical engineering technicians.

4. Wind Farms

At this point it appears that sometime next year that the BLS will officially add Wind technician (or some derivation of that) to the SOC classification system (it will take a little while longer for data to actually start to come in). This will provide regions with the ability to quantify these green occupations. Programs to train wind technicians are popping up all over the nation, at an exponential rate. The concern is that education institutions are creating these programs without a thorough enough understanding of the labor market and potentially through the use of inflated job projections that serve to substantiate program development. Before every college and jobseeker rushes out to train for these jobs, here is a word of caution. With unemployment as high as it is in construction and manufacturing, and with actual demand for new construction and manufacturing at the lowest point they have been in recent memory, it is important to not overtrain in these areas.

After reading the National Council for Workforce Education’s paper on the role community colleges play in growing a green workforce, we thought it would be interesting to look at some data and employment trends for the sort of occupations employed at a company that manufactures wind turbines.

The NCWE report includes a typical employee profile for a 250-person wind manufacturing firm. We’ve taken the national outlook for the selected occupations in the profile and run some analysis to see how they’re projected to change from 2008-2010. These are counts for all of the jobs in each 5-digit SOC area and are not necessarily to be considered “green.” The purpose is to show the national outlook in job growth/loss, earnings, and the associated training requirements for each of the 27 occupations.

Note: These are selected occupations, based off information from Management Information Services Inc., and the American Solar Energy Society.


  • As the NCWE study suggests, the lion’s share of jobs in this profile are traditional manufacturing jobs.

  • Many of these occupations are projected to experience significant decline over the past few years. The worst percentage loss comes from:

  1. Drilling and boring machine tool setters and operators: -12%, -5,446 jobs

  2. Lathe and turning machine tool setters: -11%, -6,647 jobs (the biggest overall loss)

  3. Tool and die makers: -11%, -9,486 jobs

  • The value of analyzing replacement jobs—those that come about because of retirement, out-migration, etc.—is important to note here. While all but three of these occupations suffered losses, many have much brighter outlooks when you look at replacements. Factoring in new and replacement jobs, the strongest growth comes from Janitors and cleaners (4%) and Accountants and auditors (4%).

  • Quite a few of the occupations in the profile have fairly low median hourly earnings. There are some notable exceptions (like Engineering managers at $54.41), but the majority have limited wage potential. The average is $17.06.

  • Most of the occupations require somewhere between short- and long-term on-the-job training. A bachelor’s degree is certainly useful in this area—but not essential.

5. Solar Power
This cluster is focused on the use of solar cells for energy, including photovoltaic modules that
produce electricity directly from sunlight.


  • As is the case with wind power, these occupations are all related to construction to some degree. And overall, the numbers point to how hard the construction sector has been hit in the recent economic downturn. Almost 34,000 construction laborer positions are projected to lose their jobs by the end of 2010 (that figures lowers to 12,012 when replacements are factored in).

  • The most in-demand “solar” job is Electrical or electronics repairers. From 2008-2010, it’s projected to grow by 5% (new plus replacement jobs) and projected to add 3,643 workers.

  • Electrical engineers are in line to need a fairly large supply of replacement workers (3,327). That’s a 2% increase from 2008.

  • Postsecondary training is not mandatory with most of these occupations. However, solar industry certification is strongly preferred with employers to work in this sector. Also, the wage potential is fairly low. Six of the jobs have median earnings under $15 per hour.

6. Advanced Biofuels

This cluster is made up of occupations that staff the chemical, transportation, and agriculture industries.


  • Like the other green occupation clusters, the jobs that make up advanced biofuels are mostly in decline when you look at standard job change only. But the outlook changes when replacement jobs are factored into the equation. When new and replacement jobs are considered, the largest demand is for:

  1. Farm and agricultural managers: 16% growth, 84,746 additional jobs.

  2. Agricultural workers: 10% growth, 2,411 jobs.

  3. Agricultural inspectors: 7% growth, 1,024 jobs.

  • The chemical field is very robust in general, and a four-year degree isn’t essential to enter into it. From 2008-2010, Chemical technicians is projected to experience nice growth and solid wages ($20.28), with an associate’s degree as the requirement.

  • Experience in most cases is just as or more important than postsecondary education with quite a few of these jobs. Purchasing agents of farm products, for example, make $23.22 per hour (equivalent to $48,000-plus/year) and require no degree per se.


We recommend that you create such analysis for your own area and have this sort of information on hand so that you can help jobseekers, displaced workers, or others interested in these sectors. In addition, such information is a good place to start when considering which investment or project area is going to be most helpful in your community.

If you have questions or would like to prepare some regional analysis on labor market trends, education/training programs, or economic impacts for your area, please contact us.

Who should provide training?

Because many of the occupations closely associated with the green projects are in areas like manufacturing and construction there is a a lot of talk around who should be the primary training provider. On one hand you have apprenticeships, which are more appropriate for jobs that only require “on-the-job training” and on the other you have more workforce oriented institutions like community and technical colleges.

In February of 09 the AFL-CIO announced its Center for Green Jobs: “The mission of the center is not only to engage public policy but to also move beyond that to help our labor unions implement real green jobs initiatives—initiatives that retain and create good union jobs, provide pathways to those jobs and assist with the design and implementation of training programs to prepare incumbent workers as well as job seekers for these family-sustaining careers[8].”

Community colleges have also launched major initiatives for training. The NCWE’s Going Green publication lists many of the efforts currently underway at the nation’s community colleges to prepare the local workforce for green projects. At this point there does seem to be a little tension between the two entities, which is to be expected. Local trainers should work at the local level to understand where training is taking place and who is providing it.

To understand how training will play out in your area we recommend that you are familiar with what sort of training is already available in your region. We imagine that the actual training will be provided in different ways in different areas. This will have a lot to do with who is most well positioned to actually provide the training.


Here are the key points to keep in mind when it comes to providing training or helping jobseekers understand what sort of green jobs they can pursue.

  • Short-term job creation in green jobs will primarily be in engineering, construction, and manufacturing occupations.

  • Engineering positions are the only occupations that require more than an associate’s degree.

  • Most of the jobs can be filled through traditional training efforts, short-term training programs/curriculum, and through basic occupational compatibility.

  • Many of the occupations that will be needed to work on these green projects have experienced dramatic cutbacks and layoffs over the past few years, which means that there is a fairly large labor pool for these occupations. This means that these job markets could be very competitive.

  • The implication here is that if supply is higher than demand, the wages and long-term employment opportunities in these areas decreases.

Read the conclusion here