While traditional blue-collar jobs have not all completely gone the way of the dinosaurs just yet, modernization and changes in the global marketplace have caused many trade jobs from the manufacturing-heavy industries of the 20th century to a focus on the environmental, “green” economy.
From residential solar panel installation to industrial wind turbine sales, green jobs are not so much replacing blue-collar jobs as they are creating new opportunities for blue-collar workers in an evolving landscape. While the industrial revolution ushered in a shift away from a primarily agricultural economy and labor force in the last century, the coming green economy is more of an evolution.
What Is a Green-Collar Job?
Green collar is somewhat of an umbrella term that includes a range of jobs and industries, such as trade and managerial positions in everything from small local businesses to large corporations and international organizations. A broad example of just some of the sectors comprising green jobs include:
- Energy (residential and commercial retrofitting, efficiency, renewable electricity)
- Alternative fuels/biofuels
- Public transportation
- Solar and wind power
There are currently over 8 million green-collar jobs across sectors, and the numbers are expected to skyrocket to 40 million (approximately one out of every four workers) by 2030, according to current labor projections.
One of the many advantages of the green-collar economy is that, unlike that of traditional white- and blue-collar jobs, for which skills and job titles are more rigidly defined, the green-collar workforce requires men and women with a broad range of technical and “soft” skills. These skills are needed for management, consulting, engineering, design, metalwork, manufacturing and construction positions – just to name a few.
Even farming and agriculture have a place in the developing green economy, with growing interest in locally grown produce and the growing phenomenon of urban farming born in the last decade. According to National Geographic, some of the fastest-growing green-economy jobs include:
- Biofuels production
- Solar cell technicians
- Wind energy workers
- Green design
- Water quality technicians
- Clean/electric car engineers
- Energy efficient construction/building
- Natural sciences
- Urban growers/farmers
Salaries: Green-Collar Jobs by the Numbers
Whether you are looking to start your first green job or you’re switching careers to a green-collar job, the average yearly salary for many is in the $50,000/year range, and it rises significantly for more specialized, technical and supervisory positions.
Data compiled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the average yearly earning potential for a number of key green positions across industries:
- Robotics technicians (equipment maintenance and installation) $50,000+
- Industrial engineering technologists (quality and inventory control, material flow) $54,000+
- Solar energy installation supervisors $55,000+
- Energy auditors $56,000+
- Solar sales reps $70,000+
- Energy engineers (HVAC, air quality, electrical systems, lighting) $78,000
- Gas collection system operators (operations and maintenance – landfill and industrial gas projects) $88,000
- Solar panel installation $25,000 to $50,000+
Many entry-level green-collar jobs do not require a four-year degree and offer a higher hourly rate than traditional manufacturing jobs ($12 to $22/hour as opposed to $8 to $9/hour).
Making the Switch: Where to Find Training and Support for a Transition Into the Green-Collar Marketplace
As with many areas of the blue-collar workforce, filling the skills gap in the green sector is both a private and public concern. In order to help job seekers from all walks of life train for and find well-paying jobs with growth potential, federal and local governments have pledged to invest over a billion dollars in the next few years to help train the green workforce.
Vocational schools are also recognizing the importance of staying up-to-date with emerging technologies and by offering green-tech focused programs. Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Fall River, Massachusetts has been in existence since the early 1900’s and has made it their mission to provide vocationally trained students with the skills they need to meet the demand of the industry.”We hold industry advisor meetings bi-annually in order for our school to be advised on what is the latest technology, training, and trends in the industry. We have over 300 members on that advisory board alone,” said Kevin Lazaro, Director of Cooperative Education. “In addition to the advisory board, we also have a strong connection with industry via the Cooperative Education program. The Cooperative Education Program is tied for the largest program in the New England region. We currently have over 90 organizations, 200 representatives, 320 students employed through this program.”