Jobs of the Future

Last summer, the Brookings Institution tallied figures for jobs it categorized as clean or green: work in economic sectors that produce environmental benefits.

It turns out to be a complicated, cloudy set of calculations. Brookings opted to include electric vehicle manufacturing, but not bicycle manufacturing. Organic farming but not small farms that supply local markets. All told, the group found 2.7 million green jobs around the country, roughly two percent of total employment.

At Ecotrust, my colleagues and I have also been examining the jobs challenge. But unlike Brookings, our thinking didn't fall into strict categories. Instead of a report, we developed an illustration. At this unusual time, we need to think expansively not categorically: How do we build long-term well-being for people and place?

The picture that emerges is both utterly familiar and totally unique. Some job titles -- teacher, farmer, health care provider (only a portion of the full list are included on the artwork) -- would fit in any place, at any time. Others are based on the particularities of our home region in the Pacific Northwest. These include feller buncher operators, specializing in individual tree harvest, and fisheries trust managers, enabling community driven marine stewardship in prosperous coastal areas.

We imagined high-tech workers mingling with low tech. Alongside the clean economy jobs in solar, wind and wave energy industries are jobs in traditional craft industries: cobblers, brewmasters, stone masons and boiler makers. In recent years, our hometown of Portland, Ore., has seen a re-emergence of these types of artisans.

Most significant are the jobs that await viability, the ones open to tomorrow's social innovators and institutional entrepreneurs: the ones we haven't thought of yet. Economic transformation is limited only by our imagination.


Text by Howard Silverman. Illustration by John Hendrix.