Green-Collar Jobs

By Penni McLean-Conner, NSTAR

There is excitement among energy companies about the growth in energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy projects. This growth is being fueled rapidly by national and state initiatives and legislation such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These energy projects are good for the economy and create green-collar jobs.

Green-collar jobs are “paid positions providing environmentally friendly products or services,” according to the Green Collar Jobs Campaign’s Glossary of Terms. These new skilled jobs range from installing solar panels to retrofitting old buildings with energy-efficient and renewable solutions to designing and delivering programs to aid consumers in managing energy.

The excitement about green-collar job growth is tempered, though, by the recognition that this growth may lead to a shortage of available, experienced and trained personnel for energy services. In Massachusetts, for example, an annual growth rate of 20 percent is expected in industries related to clean energy. The largest sector of this industry is jobs associated with EE and demand response, representing 44 percent of the sector, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry Census. Moreover, the job creation associated with clean energy requires workers at every economic level, from researchers with doctorate degrees to solar panel installers, energy auditors and maintenance technicians for wind turbines, according to the New England Clean Energy Council’s Energy Workforce Summit Focused on Meeting Demand for the Fast-Growing Regional Clean Energy Industry.

Savvy energy companies growing their EE and renewable energy programs recognize this workforce challenge and are addressing it with workforce plans that identify sourcing initiatives to ensure a talented workforce for new green-collar jobs.

Workforce Planning

The Corporate Leadership Council defines workforce planning as a systematic assessment of workforce content and composition issues and determines what actions must be taken to respond to future needs.

Workforce planning is grounded in a needs assessment, which seeks to understand the future state of workforce requirements along with the capabilities and skills needed.

The current state of the workforce is also documented and a gap analysis completed between the current and future states of the workforces. The needs assessment also will provide recommendations on educational and training capabilities that will be needed to address this gap. A workforce plan will identify solutions to bridge the gap between current and future workforce needs.

Sourcing Initiatives

The workforce plans developed by energy companies outline a variety of sourcing approaches to build green-collar jobs. These efforts range from company specific activities such as developing internal talent and updating Web sites and brands to amplify a company’s interest in advancing sustainable energy solutions to more integrated efforts expanding training via partnerships with educational institutions and organizations.

Companies interested in growing green-collar jobs must raise awareness of the opportunities. The corporate Web site is a rich channel to highlight green aspects of a company’s brand. Companies also may find opportunities to retool existing employees for new green-collar jobs. This can be accomplished via internal training or mentoring programs. To augment internal staff and develop a bench of talent, companies also are incorporating interns or co-ops into the workforce. Another tool to raise awareness of a company’s brand and opportunities related to green-collar jobs is scholarships. EE investments create jobs most directly through the work required to produce and install energy-efficient products. Companies with EE programs recognize this issue and are concerned with their internal staffing opportunities and staffing issues of the energy service companies. A sourcing strategy addressing this need involves partnering with local training institutions. The partnership involves identifying skills, developing curriculum and providing training. Program administrators may partner with local training institutions such as technical high schools, community colleges and universities.

North Carolina State University extrapolates the number of green-collar jobs nationwide to reach one-quarter of the entire U.S. workforce in coming years. This demand likely will create shortages of workers with specific skills and capabilities needed to support the rapid growth in sustainable energy or green-collar jobs. Savvy companies anticipate the demand for green-collar workers, have completed a workforce assessment and are implementing initiatives to mitigate potential shortcomings in green-collar employees


Penni McLean-Conner is the vice president of customer care at NSTAR, the largest investorowned electric and gas utility in Massachusetts. McLean-Conner, a registered professional engineer, serves on several industry boards of directors, including the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and CS Week. Her latest book, “Energy Ef? ciency: Principles and Practices,” is available at


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