The Promise of "Green" and a Dash of "Reality"

One of the ramifications of the tragic events that have unfolded over the last month in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be even more emphasis on developing "green energy" and building with it a "green economy." With a national unemployment rate stubbornly resistant at close to 10%, the promise that holds is even more appealing.

President Obama's administration is trying to play its part, targeting almost $1.5 billion of stimulus money for such "green" job training and development.

Unfortunately, this long-term promise is bumping up against short-term reality.

In a new report on the green jobs and their economic promise Workforce Strategy Center released this week, we found the unsettling fact that there are some serious roadblocks to the kind of immediate payoff we are all so eager to see:

First is a question of maturity. Although there are some wonderful enterprises and initiatives underway, the "green" industry is simply too young to provide many jobs.

Second, for those jobs that do exist, with the standards and technology changing so quickly, available training is inconsistent and uneven.

Third, one hope had been that new "green" jobs would provide a career pathway out of poverty up an ascending ladder of skills and pay for Americans with the lowest skills and earnings. But a review of the kinds of jobs coming on-line, show the entry level of most of those jobs will be above the current skill level of this target population.

None of this is in any way negates the belief that this "new" economy will deliver eventual benefits. Our research also discovered several examples of how we might be able to develop the kind of training and development that will be needed to support the new industries when they are ready.

Notable examples are happening in our community colleges, which remain on the front line of creating an educated workforce. For example, Los Angeles Trade-Technical College has devised a community-wide program bringing in industry, labor organizations, community groups, and local government to foster training to make an immediate difference in the community. Similarly, Skyline College outside San Francisco has created a series of short courses to give dislocated workers the skills to get their foot in the door of the new economy quickly and efficiently.

$1.5 billion can buy a lot of hope; but it is going to take time, education, and economic maturity before the broad economic benefits of "green" are more than wishful planning.