A Publication of WTVP

The blue collar has a greenish tint these days. And the skilled construction trades in central Illinois are gearing up.

Green-collar jobs are all the buzz in workforce and economic development—many wondering just how many jobs will open up and how to plug in. According to the American Solar Energy Society, as many as one in four Americans will be employed in renewable energy or energy efficiency-related careers by 2030. That’s 40 million Americans in green-collar jobs. Plugging into those jobs begins with understanding “green” and identifying potential green jobs.

“Green” labels have been placed on everything from products to practices, recycling to energy efficiency, biofuels to lifestyles, and cars to buildings. To some, green may mean growing a garden, and to others, putting in a bamboo floor. It may refer to environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes or high-efficiency appliances and light bulbs. Most people generally refer to “green” as having to do with renewable energy or energy efficiency, but there is no single definition, and green labeling has a wide reach. Some feel this “greenwashing” is overused and a bit overwhelming; others realize that the push for a greener environment—even if it means overusing green labels—brings unlimited opportunities for new technologies, new jobs and a better planet.

Green jobs can best be described as those involved with the creation, manufacture and/or installation of green, renewable, environmentally-friendly or energy-efficient products, practices or measures. Examples include solar manufacturers, geo-scientists, hydrologists, architects, energy raters and construction skilled trades workers. Some jobs will certainly be new, while others will be created out of increased demand for green products or services, as is the case for many green construction jobs.

Construction skilled trades play a large role in the new green-collar economy. An electrician, for example, may train to install solar and wind projects—his or her job is then considered a green-collar job. As the demand for solar and wind increases, so increases the demand for more electricians. All trades, locally and internationally, have been working quickly to add new training courses to apprenticeship programs and train existing journeymen in new green building techniques. Carpenters, insulators and laborers may work to air-seal, insulate and weatherize a home or business. Roofers may be employed to install new green roof systems. Electricians may replace inefficient lighting with high-efficient alternatives. Steamfitters, plumbers and sheet metal workers will work on energy-efficient mechanical systems. Those are just a few examples—all trades will have a role in building and rebuilding in a green-collar economy.

Tri-County Construction Labor-Management Council (TRICON), which brings together union construction skilled trades and contractors, jumped onto the green momentum several years ago, launching one of Illinois’ first Home Performance with ENERGY STAR programs with the help of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The program is designed to help homeowners make their homes more safe, comfortable and energy-efficient, but it also encourages contractors and skilled trades workers to learn new building techniques and earn certification from the Building Performance Institute (BPI).

At the same time, the local construction industry started training for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. Since then, new and additional building codes, standards, certifications and techniques in green building have come forward in both residential and commercial construction—the urgency to green the construction industry has spurred a flurry of training. TRICON has partnered with local, state and federal organizations to offer additional green training and certification to the local construction industry and energy professionals.

Workforce Network/City of Peoria Workforce Development, in cooperation with Illinois Central College and TRICON, recently received a U.S. Department of Labor grant to help individuals train for green-collar jobs. Training programs include several certifications (BPI, LEED and Green Environment) as well as a green associate’s degree from ICC. Construction apprenticeship programs are also collaborating on this green training project.

Green jobs offer real opportunities. For the skilled construction trades, it doesn’t matter whether their collars are blue or green—they will provide customers with quality work, improve the local economy, and maybe, make the planet a little better place for future generations. iBi