by Nicholas Dobbins

Nick Dobbins is a Research Analyst for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. He works with a team of analysts who are studying Minnesota’s green economy.


By now, you’ve likely heard the hype about green jobs. People everywhere seem to be talking about how emerging green industries might create good jobs, improve the environment and strengthen the economy. For many Minnesotans, the promise of green jobs is a reason for optimism, both about their own future employment prospects and the health of the planet.


But there are many unanswered questions. No one knows how much demand there is for these jobs, the industries they’re in, the types of tasks they involve or the training they require. There isn’t even an official definition of what makes a job green. So where do you find these elusive jobs of the future? Thanks to a $1.2 million federal grant, researchers in the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Labor Market Information office (DEED-LMI) can begin to answer some of these questions. 



What’s a Green Job?


On the surface, the concept of a green job seems simple enough; it’s work that benefits the environment, preferably by using some new technology that’s been designed and built domestically or locally. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that identifying these jobs is more complicated.


For example, most everyone would agree that someone who designs wind turbines has a green job. That person needs to understand complex engineering principles, and their work directly contributes to the creation of machines that generate renewable energy. But what about the people who manufacture bolts that will be used in the turbines? Or the truckers who transport the large turbine blades to the site where the turbine will sit? Do they have green jobs?


Consider the following examples from our recent green jobs survey. Do you think these jobs are green?


  • Roofers, whose job duties have remained largely unchanged for years. They may not set out to save the environment, but their work directly results in well-insulated buildings, and less energy wasted.


  • Cashiers who work for environmentally conscious retailers. Sure, they’re mostly just ringing up customers, but they also might recycle pounds of waste every day and offer re-usable bags to each person they serve.


  • Truck drivers whose vehicles run on bio-diesel fuel. The trucks they’re driving may be more environmentally friendly than those of their peers, but the biggest difference in their actual jobs is the pump they pull up to for fuel.


Examples like these are common, and each one represents a new challenge in thinking about what makes a job green. Deciding whether, why, and exactly how these jobs are green is a critical first step in understanding the emerging green economy.


To solve this puzzle, DEED-LMI is surveying employers and talking to them about their job vacancies. Specifically, we’ve been asking them about the job’s duties, whether they think it’s involved in producing green goods or services, and what kinds of skills or knowledge are needed. We’re using the results to determine how many job vacancies in Minnesota actually qualify as green. Once we’ve completed this work, we’ll know a lot more about where the most “greening” is occurring and what those changing skill requirements mean for Minnesota’s workforce and education and training providers.


Preliminary results from the first round of our study, including which types of jobs made the cut, will be available this summer on the DEED website. Data gathering will be complete in early 2011, and final results will be published shortly thereafter.  Stay tuned…