Don’t Give Up on Green Jobs and Careers!

Preparing my slides for today’s “What’s Next for Green Careers?” session at the Second Annual National Fund meeting in Cincinnati gave me the opportunity to reflect on SkillWorks Green Jobs Initiative activities from 2009 to the present. It took me awhile to figure out what message I wanted to share with the audience: Don’t give up on green!

Have there been some challenges and failures with green jobs?  Of course. But, there have also been some successes too, and green sectors such as clean energy are reporting growth—moderate growth, but growth nonetheless. The biggest failure I see with green jobs is the drastic misalignment of hype versus reality. Surprisingly (sarcasm intended), green jobs are not the silver bullet to solve poverty that we all so desperately wanted them to be (myself included). I urge you not to pack up and move away so quickly though. Instead, learn from the past few years and retool your approach.

To help with this, I’ll share some of my learnings and takeaways:

  • Importance of managing expectations. Everyone (funders, job training programs, job seekers, etc.) had pie in the sky hopes for green jobs when it wasn’t really very practical to put all our eggs in the green basket. Plain and simple, we oversaturated the market.
  • Challenges in engaging green employers. Green employers tend to be smaller companies that are not extremely connected to the workforce system and exist in fractured networks relying on informal hiring processes. It takes time to develop relationships with enough employers to place program graduates and it’s rare to find one able to hire more than a few people at a time.
  • Need to grow demand side. We put the cart before the horse. Green jobs are not created in a vacuum. Marketing and outreach are needed to grow the demand side and this takes time and often support from public incentives.
  • Expand existing programs. A lot of us focused on creating new green training programs and expected them to be high performing as of yesterday. Turns out, expanding strong, existing programs creates higher success potential, for example, “greening” an existing construction trades program and/or adding a hybrid component to an automotive program.
  • Green competitive edge. In this tough market, job seekers need all the edge they can get. “Green” often gives the job seeker the edge that can land them the job.

Don’t give up on “green.” Just be realistic, practical, and strategic!

Patricia Maguire is the program officer for SkillWorks: Partners for a Productive Workforce, a workforce funding collaborative housed at The Boston Foundation.

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