It’s simplest to think of a green job as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network (O*NET) as any occupation that helps to conserve energy, develop alternative energy, reduce pollution, or recycle. O*NET breaks green careers down into three categories.
First are higher demand green occupations, where job duties remain the same, but opportunities will grow as demand increases. Like bus drivers, for example, who will be in higher demand with the increased need for public transit.
However, the other two types of green careers require training and continued education, as well as evolving green certifications to help establish standards for these new professional fields such as green building and retrofitting. These other two green career types, as defined by O*NET, are “changing skills green occupations” and “new green occupations” such as energy auditors and wind energy engineers.
In the Hudson Valley the Clean Energy Technology Training Consortium (CETT) focuses on training students in four areas of clean, renewable technology: photovoltaic, solar thermal, wind, and geothermal. CETT functions in a five-county partnership, coordinated by SUNY Ulster’s Continuing Education and Public Programs in partnership with SUNY Community Colleges of Sullivan, Rockland, Orange, and Dutchess.
According to Christopher Marx, director of Continuing and Professional Education at SUNY Ulster, nearly 40 percent of the students enrolled in the program either come from a business that is looking to evolve to be a cleaner energy, green business, or are entrepreneurs seeking to start green businesses.
As this trend continues and enrollment grows, Marx says you can begin to see where the workforce is going. “We see that these are the people who are going to be creating the green jobs,” according to Marx.
The most popular class in the CETT program is photovoltaics. In fact, the program has expanded from the basics of installation to include classes like solar sales, solar design, advanced PV installation and design, as well as classes to help students understand the forms and regulations required by NYSERDA for PV reimbursement.
“These are people who own businesses, and sales are a big part of it,” Marx explains. “If they’re going to go out and do the work, they have to be able to navigate through the red-tape systems that the government has in place in order to get their customers the incentives that really allow people to put these things on their roof.”
Continuing education training also offers a gateway into a variety of green certifications.
Jeffrey Gordon, director of communications at New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), believes that certification is important because it sets a quality and performance standard, “providing greater assurance to the customer of the skill sets a person has and the quality they can expect.”
The courses offered at CETT allow for two geothermal certifications with the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association, as well as a new certification through NATE, North American Technician Excellence. Students can also begin certification for PV installation with the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).
NABCEP was founded in the early 2000s to raise industry standards and promote consumer confidence, and offers various certifications in renewable energy professions.
According to Timothee Neron-Bancel, senior manager for business development with NABCEP, the board’s certification for PV installation is the most popular. The certification combines education, training, and experience for a well-rounded, qualified green professional. Currently, there are about 1,200 NABCEP PV installers throughout the country. NABCEP’s PV installer certification has been accredited by the American National Standards Institute and, according to Neron-Bancel, is the only renewable energy certification to be accredited by the Institute.
While PV continues to reign in popularity, Neron-Bancel explains that NABCEP’s certifications are market-driven. The board also certifies solar thermal and small wind installers and is developing certifications in the next year for PV technical sales and small wind site assessor, Neron-Bancel says.
“There’s a whole aspect that is being completely overlooked right now,” Neron-Bancel relates. “A lot of people see installation as the main drive for employment, when really there are a lot more jobs in technical sales, which is why we’re launching these certifications.”
Gordon believes that this type of green workforce training and certification will transform the marketplace as incentives to have this work done become more readily available.
The Green Jobs Green New York (GJGNY) initiative passed last September was touted as “landmark” legislation by the New York State Senate. The legislation is a three-part initiative designed to lower energy costs and improve efficiencies for residential, multi-family, and small commercial properties. In addition it will fund programs for green workforce development and training, all while reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The $112 million statewide program will be administered and distributed through NYSERDA. According to Gordon, $8 million will be available for green workforce training. Nearly $80.6 million will go toward energy efficient improvements and renovations for residential, multi-family, and small commercial building. The remaining funds will go towards marketing and program administration and evaluation.
According to Gordon the jobs in highest demand through the GJGNY initiative will be home energy auditors, as $40.3 million are set aside specifically for energy improvements for existing residential housing. However, he says that there will also be a need for air sealing and insulation installation technicians, and HVAC technicians. Gordon says that this is the type of workforce training NYSERDA will be funding in order to meet the needs of the legislation.
Neron-Bancel agrees that this is where most of the jobs will be. While NABCEP currently specializes in certifying installers, he admits there is limited employment in the field, which is part of the reason why the company is working on certification programs in technical sales and assessment.
Neron-Bancel suggests that those looking to go into the green workforce think about the skills they already have and how they can apply them to green industry.
“Understand what your niche is,” Neron-Bancel says. “If you’re an electrician it makes sense to go into PV, if you’re a plumber it makes sense to go into solar thermal. If you have a construction background it makes sense to go into small wind installation because the construction aspect is much larger than electrical.”
It’s not a gold rush, and the industry isn’t going to disappear next year, so Neron-Bancel advises professionals to take their time to find where they best fit. Most agree that the green workforce is ever-growing, and that clean, renewable energy technology will be filling the needs of many industries.
“In building construction, building maintenance, transportation, I think that clean energy is going to end up becoming a ubiquitous part of what someone considers,” says Marx, of SUNY Ulster. “Whether they’re putting up a new housing or developing a transportation system,” Marx says. “I think it’s ever-evolving.”
EMS Green University emsgreenuniversity.com
Green Careers New York greencareersny.com
Green Jobs Green New York nyserda.org/greenNY
National Sustainable Building Advisor Program nasbap.org
North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners nabcep.org
O*NET Resource Center onetcenter.org/green.html
SUNY Clean Energy Technology Training Consortium sustainhv.org/cetrc
SUNY Ulster Continuing Education Program sunyulster.edu/continuing_ed