By Marilyn Odendahl, Truth Staff
To white-collar, blue-collar and pink-collar jobs, add green-collar.
As factories build components for the growing renewable energy sector and industries alter their processes to be easy on the environment, enthusiasts contend the green movement will create jobs and help the economy recover. In fact, the Center for American Progress estimates that $100 billion investment in the green economy will generate 2 million jobs in two years.
That sounds good to Tony Davis, a resident of Elkhart. Unemployed and tired of the emotional strain caused by stretching one monthly disability check to cover all household expenses, he wants a green job because he believes it will provide security and a steady income. However, he pointed out a problem with his career plans.
"I don't even know where to begin to look," he said.
Davis is probably not alone in his confusion. Although recycling, conserving natural resources, global warming and turning to sustainability to grow the economy are discussed in the legislative chamber, in the board room and around the kitchen table, many may still be wondering what, exactly, is a green job.
"I'm all for anything that's going to help with the recovery," Davis said. "That's the part I want to learn more about."
At least while the energy sector of the economy is greening, few completely new and different occupations will be created. Rather, a study by the John J. Heldrick Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Jersey found a majority of the green collar jobs within the energy segment will be traditional vocations and professions with either additional "green skills or knowledge."
Accountants, truck drivers, engineers, salespersons, factory workers and just about any other job could all become green collar if, as the Rutgers study stated, "their jobs have something to do with energy conservation or increasing the supply of renewable or clean energy sources."
Frederic Scheer, founder and chief executive officer of Cereplast Inc., described his business as a green company since it uses environmentally friendly processes to make plastic that is biodegradable. Yet, he explained, making his product is not rocket science and, although the manufacturing methods are different and require some training, many workers who have experience in the traditional plastics industry can master the new skills.
Scheer foresees a "growing demand" for his product as the price of oil -- an ingredient necessary to make standard plastic resin -- rises. More importantly, workers at Cereplast may not have to worry about having their jobs outsourced. The company holds a portfolio of patents, and Scheer said he wants to keep operations in the United States where the intellectual property will be protected.
Still, the company is not immune to the economic upheaval. It had announced plans to invest $7.3 million in a resin-making operation and create 200 new jobs in Seymour in southern Indiana but, Scheer said, those plans have been delayed while the company waits for the economy to turn around.
Workers hoping, like Davis, to land a green job will probably need to complete some type of apprenticeship, professional certificate or postsecondary education program, according to the researchers at Rutgers.
Davis already holds an associate degree in automotive technology and for a while owned a small auto repair shop. His aptitude for cars surfaced as a teenager when he rebuilt a wrecked 1972 Javelin and drove it from Detroit to Elkhart.
"I love working with my hands," Davis said. "I love working on cars."
However, he is suspicious of hybrid-electric vehicles and does not see a future in learning how to build or repair them. Instead, he wants to learn more about wind turbines, thinking he could get a job installing the systems or maintaining the equipment.
To prepare the Delaware County workforce for the new jobs at wind turbine gear-making operation, Ivy Tech Community College has been working with the gear manufacturer, Brevini, to develop specialized training. The Italian company plans to locate its U.S. headquarters and first North American gear design and manufacturing center in Muncie, creating 450 positions by 2011.
The college is not formulating an entire new degree program but, rather, said Connie Trout, project manager at Ivy Tech East Central Region, is tailoring existing courses or developing new classes to follow the standard curriculum.
For Brevini in particular, the work in the factory will require especially refined skills because of the steel being used and the quality of the gears being made, Trout said.
Laid-off workers and students coming to Ivy Tech are asking about green jobs, Trout said. Echoing Davis, they believe these occupations will be stable and in demand.
In his 46 years, Davis has made some bad choices that continue to haunt him and has held a variety of blue-collar jobs. While he wants to advance his training and land a green-collar job, the creeping desperation brought by the current economy may derail his plans as he tries to just feed his family.
"As my mother used to tell me, whatever job you do, do it well even if it's cleaning toilets," he said. "Right now I'll take anything."