Analysis: Green jobs to beat economic blues

E&T looks at the potential for an employment boom in 'clean' technologies.

We're all aware of white and blue collar workers - the former at their desks while the latter get their hands dirty. However, two of the world's biggest concerns are creating a push for a new colour to join the ranks - green.

With the recession and the environment at the forefront of many governments' minds, policy and funding look set to push the green-collar sector into exponential growth.

According to a report by the Environmental Industries Commission, this is already a $3tr global marketplace, which is growing rapidly at over 5 per cent a year. Areas like wind power are helping this growth, but according to both governments and industry, we can expect many more jobs to appear across a much wider spectrum.

Although not clearly defined yet, green-collar jobs are generally considered to be anything in the clean-tech, environmental and renewable spaces. However, some think that calling something 'green collar' is just trying to repackage classic engineering skills.

"In essence, the roles which exist in green industries are largely the same as exist in every other walk of life," said Dan Simpson, divisional HR business partner, Renewables and Fossil Power Generation, Siemens Energy.

"Industries that exist in the 'green' arena are largely engineering-based and thus require classical engineering disciplines: designing and constructing wind turbines is made possible because of classical mechanical engineering; selling them is classical account management; hiring the people to meet the demand is operational human resources in its purest form. Science, engineering and technology - or, in more simple terms, taking something and making it into something else - are the real creators of wealth in any economy and don't need repackaging as 'green collar'," Simpson stated.

Already Japan, Korea, Germany and the US have launched 'green new deals' which aim to create jobs (tackle the recession) and improve environmental conditions (reduce carbon levels and support renewable energy) by offering economic stimulus cash. US President Barack Obama has spoken of creating five million green-collar jobs through his plans, for example.

The UK is following suit. Earlier this year, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson estimated that 880,000 people are already working in this sector in the UK and that would soon reach one million. Following this, Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised to introduce environmental measures to aid recovery from recession, including creating thousands of 'green' jobs through legislation and initiatives such as the Low Carbon Industrial Strategy. The 2009 Budget included additional support for low-carbon industries and advanced green manufacturing, too.

Schemes are already in place to help create these new jobs. For example, the legally binding Carbon Reduction Commitment scheme (CRC) is committing over 5,000 companies to start mitigating their carbon. As they try to look into how they use energy, and also how they can save costs, recruitment agencies believe a new position will become prevalent - a manager who oversees this work.

But can growth of green-collar workers really help fight the recession?

"I think it will help in the sense that the government is making companies spend money by telling them they have to adhere to upcoming legislations," said Andrew Cartland, managing director of recruitment agency Acre Resources. "With a recession there's a huge lack of confidence in spending money. When they are forced to, then it means cash starts flowing around the system again. If that cash is then going into creating jobs, it's going into people's pockets to be respent. So, yes, I think it can make a difference."

"The recession will go away, and sadly so will the ice caps if we do nothing to change our ways," added Gabriel Ruhan, CEO of marine technology business Global Marine Systems. "With government investment and regulation making it feasible for private industry to grow its commitment to green technology, I see no reason why we couldn't see that as helping to fight the recession. However, the issue is bigger than the recession."

In times when news reports show job losses almost daily, it's great to hear of a sector seeing growth. Engineering is one of the most sought-after skills for this area, especially people who can work with new forms of energy-efficiency technology.

"We're recruiting for a lot of mechanical engineers first of all - those who work with combined heat and power systems," says Cartland. "We're often asked to find people with heating, ventilation and air-conditioning expertise - people that know about energy-consuming systems. Another big demand is for electrical engineers. Wind farm developers are on the look out for these," he added.

There are many opportunities but beware; some specialists believe these jobs will be contract-based rather than full-time employment.

"There are always opportunities for engineers - the question is how long-term they are. My feeling is that these will be three/six/nine-month projects and not full-time jobs," said Neil Daly, director of specialist energy recruiter Hamilton Consultants. "If we do get a continuing rolling programme of projects, then the contractors can just move onto the next one and so we may see more 'career' contractors in the sector," he concluded.

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