Green-Collar Jobs in America’s Cities

Building Pathways Out of Poverty and Careers in the Clean Energy Economy

Report outlines how to green jobs can make American cities more sustainable, efficient, and livable while spurring economic growth, innovation, and job creation.

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Video: Capturing the Energy Opportunity

The movement to make American cities more sustainable, efficient and livable is perhaps the greatest new engine for urban economic growth, innovation and job creation in many decades.

The American Solar Energy Society estimates that in 2006 alone, renewable energy and energy efficiency were responsible for $970 billion in industry revenues and 8.5 million jobs. This number will grow exponentially if our nation commits itself in earnest to reducing carbon emissions and making economy-wide improvements in energy efficiency.

Unfortunately, America’s growing green economy faces a looming labor shortage in sectors like manufacturing, construction and installation. In a 2005 survey by the National Association of Manufacturers, 90 percent of respondents indicated a moderate to severe shortage of qualified, skilled production employees like machinists and technicians. Similarly, the National Renewable Energy Lab has identified a shortage of skills and training as a leading barrier to renewable energy and energy efficiency growth. This labor shortage is only likely to get more severe as baby-boomers skilled in current energy technologies retire; in the power sector, for example, nearly one-quarter of the current workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five to seven years.

Clearly if America is to rise to the global energy challenge, and capture the economic opportunity it represents, we need to prepare the next generation of Americans for the important work that lies ahead. Green jobs exist, and are growing, in a range of industries and at every skill and wage level. Many are in the skilled trades: manufacturing, construction, operation and maintenance, and installation. Most are “middle-skill” jobs, requiring more education than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree. Some are a bridge to high-skill professional jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities; others are perfect entry level or transitional jobs for urban residents looking for a pathway out of poverty. In short, green jobs are the kind of family-supporting jobs that once anchored the American middle class, but in the industries of the future: industries like wind turbine manufacturing, solar panel installation, energy efficiency retrofits, and green building.

This publication focuses on local green jobs in clean energy industries—energy efficiency, renewable energy, alternative transportation, and low-carbon fuels. Specifically, it offers guidance on how cities can link residents to green-collar jobs: family-supporting, career-track jobs in green industries. We hope it will help cities across America develop strategies to expand their green economies, and connect the promise of the global clean energy future to the practical realities of local green economic and workforce development.

If your city or region wants to find ways to leverage local environmental, economic development, and workforce development programs to grow the green-collar jobs of the future, this report is for you. It explains the link between embracing visionary public policies and investments, and expanding demand for local green-collar workers. It outlines the importance of building on existing workforce and economic development initiatives to meet this demand. It lays out ways to link traditional training partnerships to Green Jobs Corps, or similar initiatives that offer pathways out of poverty. And it shows how the success of your green-collar jobs effort can help build a broader-based constituency for even more ambitious clean energy initiatives in the years to come.

The field of green economic and workforce development is a new and exciting one. The strategies outlined in this report build on the hard work being done right now in cities across America. Please let us know what you think—we look forward to hearing from you, learning from you, and building your experiences into the next edition of this report. Thank you for your interest in, and commitment to, building a clean energy future for America.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.