Green jobs sprout in weak economy

With anything “green” being the buzzword du jour, it’s not easy figuring out what the real deal is.

This seems particularly true with “green jobs,” where the promise of employment (getting a job, keeping a job) can overwhelm common sense.

In simplest terms, green jobs are those where you work for or own a company or organization that specializes in offering a green service or product.

Their “mission” is green. In addition, green jobs are those where you provide a unique green service within a more conventional business or organizational setting.

In the latter circumstance, for example, you might be the sustainability coordinator for a grocery store chain.

The grocery store may sell organic and/or local food or other environmentally friendly products, but this is just part of what it does.

Its “mission” is to sell groceries, green or not.

Most green building jobs fall into existing job categories.

They require a familiar set of skills with some additions, as well as an expanded knowledge base. A good example would be a roofer who installs photovoltaic (solar electric) roofing shingles.

Another example would be a plumber who installs dual-flush toilets or indoor plumbing systems that allow you to reuse greywater, such as water that drains from the shower or clothes washer.

There are exceptions, such as the energy auditor or rater job titles that have emerged recently.

These exceptions can require new skills and new knowledge.

In either case, training or retraining is required to perform the job effectively.

Due to stimulus funding, there is money for developing green job training programs right now, as well as money to help the unemployed take these programs once developed.

Regional educational institutions such as Olympic College have used this funding to take advantage of the growing interest in green building and to help those who want green building jobs to skill up so they can qualify for them.

When holding an information session recently on the Bremerton Campus for green building education courses I’m involved with, I was, not surprisingly, asked the obvious — will I get a job if I take this course?

Training does not create work where it isn’t, and there is no denying that the building industry is cool, if not frigid.

But I will say that if there is any opportunity at all, it is in upgrading existing buildings to reduce operational costs, in designing and building high end high performance projects that will future-proof against rising operational costs, and in long term planning of sustainable developments.

And we can anticipate that more, and more stringent, environmental and building performance policies and codes will force the issue.

Getting a green job requires the same perseverance as a non-green job — but in a market where it’s hard to get any job, standing out is a good thing.

That’s where training associated with a nationally recognized credential can help.

In a lousy job market, sitting on your hands is not an option.

Kathleen O’Brien is the lead instructor for the SBA course at Olympic College.

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