June 4th, 2010

The Green Jobs Bubble: Why the Coming Backlash Is a Good Thing

BOSTON -

There’s going to be a Green Jobs backlash.  There…I said it. The manufacturing plant that closed up the road can’t be re-tooled over the course of eighteen months to magically employ the same number of people doing mythical ‘green’ things.  Promising this to a community or a person that has been laid off is a recipe for disappointment and resentment and I expect some of those unrealistic promises will come back to bite people who made big promises.  That’s the bad news – take some time to mourn the loss if you need it.

Once we get over that fact, we can move on to the good news: companies are hiring and there are more opportunities in renewables and energy efficiency than ever.  The Great Recession that we’re either emerging from or still buried in has caused an subtle paradigm shift in employment in the construction industry that is not that complicated to understand once you see it.  Consumer preferences are changing but companies are risk adverse, so there’s more contract work, lots of temporary positions, and entrepreneurship is a necessary option sometimes.  The opportunities are there, they just aren’t packaged with a corner office and a pension.

I know many people who have gotten green jobs and there will be many, many more in the months and years ahead.  So lets not let the inevitable Green Jobs backlash distract us from the exciting changes that are slowly but surely taking place.

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Brian Hayden

About Brian Hayden

Brian Hayden founded HeatSpring Learning Institute in 2007. He's an accredited geothermal installer and creates technical training programs on geothermal and solar systems. HeatSpring has been featured in Business Week's "America's Top 25 Promising Social Entrepreneurs"

  • http://www.thegreenlightdistrikt.com Chris Williams

    Brian,

    Love the post and insight, it reminds me of the internet bubble, in the sense that there was a lot of hype and ‘companies’ failing. However, if you look at internet use over that tiem span, it never even dipped. Meaning that the trend was continuing, it just took us a while to figure out how to take advantage of it.

    Chris

  • Brian Hayden

    Yeah Chris that’s exactly right. I think phrases like, ‘new economy’ melt away over time and what’s left are the things that actually provide value for people. I wrote the post so people don’t lose track of the exciting, substantive changes that are happening when people get sick of the hype.

  • Carrington Ward

    One of the results of bubbles is that they lead to over-built infrastructure and capacity. As you might imagine, not all bubbles are, um, ‘deflated equal.’ Housing tracts in Aroostook county whose value has suddenly deflated, for example, are liable to remain vacant for a very long time.

    By contrast the fiber optic cable that overprovided bandwidth in the 1990s — the built infrastructure behind the dot-com boom — is pretty crucial infrastructure for streaming video and all of the other goodies of our current internet.

    And this is one of the big advantages to the any ‘green energy bubble’ that starts inflating — the solar panels remain on the roofs and continue to generate electricity, even if they don’t necessarily provide the expected ROI for their investors.

    So keep puffing!

  • http://www.thegreenlightdistrikt.com Chris Williams

    Carrington,

    Love the insight and completely agree, there are always unexpected consequences, but that doesn’t mean they will be bad consequences!

    Chris

  • http://www.thegreenlightdistrikt.com Chris Williams

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  • Peter Cabaniss

    No one gained in the this bubble: It was bubble of anticipation. “Here come the Green Jobs.” Pumped by everyone. So when people like me (laid off engineer) started looking for all of the green jobs. The only thing I found was $12.00 an hour solar installation or weatherization jobs. Even these were few and you normally had to pay from $900 $2,400 to earn a certification of some type. Yes the ESC (Employment Security Commission aka ‘the unemployment office’) would pay these courses after about a 3 month wait.

    So the backlash is from the dissappointment of millions of able bodied Americans who were told “Here come the Green Jobs.”

    The biggest winners in this Green Economy are the Government Workers who work in the offices of the Green Initiative Czars and the developers of all of these Green Job Certification courses. Just to look at all the adds on this site. Google Green Jobs and you will get 25 training courses to every one (1) job.

  • Brian Hayden

    Peter,

    I was at a Green Job Fair about a year ago and Kevin Doyle, the keynote speaker, polled the room to see who was there: ‘How many employers are here hiring?’, he asked. 12 people stood up. ‘How many job seekers are here looking to make a career switch?’. 300 people stood up. ‘How many schools or career counselors are here to provide services to the job seekers?’. 100 people stood up.

    I remember that clearly because I was one of the schools standing with 99 others. It made me realize that we need to be focused on where real opportunities are, rather than simply adding to the hype. Twelve months later, here are where I see genuine opportunities:

    • Salespeople and entrepreneurs who can bring in customers and money and are willing to operate without a fixed salary are easy to bring on.
    • Existing businesses or institutions bringing on technical experts to win government or institutional clients that have money allocated for projects.
    • Existing tradespeople or engineering firms that fill 20% of their time with ‘green’-type projects.
    • Contractors working on a project basis to deliver for organizations that have won a big contract. These contractors often transition into full-time employment.

    Looking for a job is probably the most humbling thing we go through as adults and it’s incredibly frustrating to feel like you’re chasing something that doesn’t exist. So I think everything you’re saying is valid. I still believe that if you have your bullshit meter set to ‘high’, and stay patient there are some very real opportunities out there. I advocate for dropping the word ‘green’ entirely and simply focusing on where the opportunities are rather than putting things in or out of the bucket.

    This last rambling point is something Kevin Doyle said in his presentation at that career fair. He encouraged everyone to think broadly about what a ‘green job’ really is. If you think of it as a regular job with a company that is somehow making the world better then the world opens up beyond the entry level solar jobs you found.

    Thanks so much for your comments – they definitely pushed my thinking forward.

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