Jose Pichardo enrolled in a green-job training program at Sustainable South Bronx, a non-profit based in New York, after struggling to find construction work. Since completing the six-month program more than three years ago, he was hired to survey buildings to make them more energy efficient.
“The whole world is pretty much going that way, becoming more energy efficient,” said Pichardo. “In the future, I’m really looking to get into geothermal and solar.”
Just how many opportunities there are for mid and low-skilled workers, like Pichardo, to find work in the renewable energy field hinges on today’s election. President Barack Obama has pledged to create five million green jobs, while falling short of stated goals. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has said Obama’s “‘green energy’ agenda has been nothing short of a disaster.”
“Opportunities for people who have had less education, less experience in the workforce, grow when there are pipelines into jobs through good training programs,” said Carol Zabin, a labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley.
Still, some critics say green jobs, at all skill levels, have stunted growth in other areas of the labor market because of the industry’s dependence on state and federal funding.
“When the government, through special favors, creates green jobs, it is actually taking resources away from other employment,” said Robert Bradley, chief executive officer of the Institute for Energy Research. “The problem is, you can’t see what you lost.”
Green career prospects are also entangled with federal and state policies and whether lawmakers will reach a final deal to address the so-called fiscal cliff that includes funding for energy-related tax incentives.
“Given this entanglement with policy, they are really susceptible to uncertainty,” said Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “You have pending policy actions that will very much determine what the next few years look like,” in renewable energy.