The traditional designations of “blue-collar” and “white-collar” careers are good in theory. In reality, though, the nature of our workforce is changing, and it’s no longer specific enough to delineate jobs by whether or not they deal with manual labor. (See last year’s post on gold-collar jobs, for example.) During the last decade in particular, a growing awareness of climate change has spurred job creation in a variety of sectors. Today, these jobs are often referred to as “green jobs,” or sometimes, green-collar jobs.
“Millions of new jobs are among the many silver, if not indeed gold-plated linings on the cloud of climate change,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “New research reveals that these jobs are not for just the middle classes, but also for workers in construction, sustainable forestry, and agriculture to engineering and transportation. Talk of environmental sustainability and climate change often emphasizes the costs, but downplays the significant employment opportunities from the transition to a global economy that is both resource efficient and restores environmental values,” Steiner explained back in 2007.
Today, green jobs can be in fields (so to speak) from agricultural and manufacturing, to research and development, or any other field that contributes to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Traditionally, these jobs have really flourished in states like California or Massachusetts, places where there are public and private projects in solar power, wind power, and energy efficiency. According to a recent report, 20,000 new jobs were added in California in 2015 in just the solar power industry, making for a grand total of 75,000 solar employees in the state. As global investment in renewable energy grows, the number of jobs those investments create grows, too.
While the coasts usually get all the glory when it comes to green jobs, a new report from national nonprofit organization Environmental Entrepreneurs and Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust found that Midwestern job growth in green jobs in the next 12 months will outpace U.S. employment growth overall. In other words, the Midwest is not to be overlooked when it comes to sustainability jobs. Right now, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan have the most green jobs in the Midwest, but overall the region has 7,000 people who are employed in manufacturing clean fuels and 70,000 people who work in renewable energy, among others.
Why the Midwest? Well, Fortune Magazine says that most of the clean-energy workers we have are employed by firms with fewer than 50 employees: “Many of those companies are startups that have built on the Midwest’s manufacturing base, including dipping into a ready-made labor pool of workers displaced when factory jobs moved overseas.”
Thanks to the pool of employees ready to work, low costs in states like Nebraska and Ohio, and plenty of space to grow, the Midwest is poised to grow. Beth Soholt, executive director of Wind on the Wires, explains that falling costs for wind and solar as opposed to fossil fuels are part of the formula creating good jobs in the Midwest. “Wind energy costs have dropped by 66% over the past six years, and solar costs have declined 53% since 2010. These dramatic reductions in cost are likely to drive further development, and increase the number of good-paying, family-supporting renewable energy jobs along the way,” Soholt explains.
It’s always fortuitous when what’s good for the earth pairs up with what’s good for our economy and American citizens. If you’re interested in finding a good-paying green job, consider the Midwest, and particularly Nebraska, in your job hunt. Now’s certainly the time to look!