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Engine of Growth: Clean-tech Jobs


By Ben Arnoldy
The Christian Science Monitor
January 24, 2008


Clean energy work is a rapidly growing industry, but critics
say it's no panacea for unemployment.

Reporter Ben Arnoldy talks about a woman who started a new
career in solar energy.Richmond, Calif. - On the campaign
trail and during Monday's debate, the Democratic presidential
candidates touted "green-collar jobs" as a solution to
unemployment. These are manual labor jobs within new
clean-technology industries that the politicians say cannot be
outsourced. Or, as former President Bill Clinton put it
recently, to green a building "somebody's got to be standing
on that roof."

Angela Greene is that person on the roof. After losing her job
within the printing industry, she finds herself atop a home in
Richmond, Calif., installing solar panels.

"I saw I would be able to make a stable income for myself,"
says Ms. Greene, "and at the same time be able to help my
community and the environment."

Clean energy has become a $55-billion-a-year industry
worldwide, and its rapid growth is fueling a shortage of
workers in emerging hubs like California's Bay Area. Advocates
for the poor say there's an opportunity here to rebuild an
industrial base of well-paying, low-skilled jobs, but some
critics question whether they are overstating the job
potential of the sector.

"Nearly every city is vying to become a hub of clean
technology or green-collar jobs. Every community college that
has any budget to develop a new program is looking at a lot of
these new technologies," says Joel Makower, executive editor
of greenbiz.com in Oakland, Calif.

Germany's clean energy effort has resulted in 235,600 jobs in
2006. Convinced similar job creation can happen here, Congress
last month authorized $125 million for green-collar job training.

The Democratic presidential candidates would go further:

•Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina wants to train and
employ at least 150,000 workers a year in new green- energy
related jobs.

•Sen. Barack Obama would use some of the $150 billion
generated over 10 years by a cap-and-trade program on
greenhouse-gas emissions to fund green job-training programs.

•Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has proposed $5 billion of
spending on clean-technology investments as part of an
economic stimulus package.

GOP contender Sen. John McCain also mentioned the need for job
training in green technology.

Some critics are skeptical.

"The people who talk about green-collar jobs as the solution
to low-skilled unemployment overestimate the number of jobs
and underestimate the supply of labor," says Marcellus
Andrews, an economist at Columbia University in New York.

Such jobs may be outsource proof, he says, but aren't
immigration proof, meaning native workers could be displaced.
Advocates say they are focused on returning manual-labor jobs
to inner cities and the heartland.

Twenty-two different sectors of the economy already involve
green-collar jobs, according to a new study by Raquel
Pinderhughes at San Francisco State University. Some examples
include biodiesel vehicle repair, nontoxic printing, home
weatherizing, and sustainable landscaping.

The study looked at green-collar jobs within Berkeley and
found most paid good wages, offered benefits, and were open to
workers with low skills and little experience. The average
hourly wage for a green-collar worker in Berkeley is $15.80 an
hour plus benefits – $4.00 more than the city's minimum
"living wage."

Most employers face labor shortages and were willing to train
workers on the job, the study found. A green-collar job summit
last week in San Francisco revealed that California faces a
shortage of solar panel installers and workers qualified for
renewable power projects.

In Oakland, the mayor's office and community groups have
partnered to train locals for green jobs. The city gave
$250,000 to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights for a
program linking green-job trainees with employers.

"As the green economy takes off, we have the opportunity from
the beginning to lock in the people who have tended to be
locked out of the workforce," says Ian Kim with the Ella Baker Center.

 

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