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Green Building Jobs in a Lousy Job Market:Where’s the Opportunity? Kathleen O’Brien responds

KathleenOBrien-web With anything “green” being the buzz word du jour, it’s not easy figuring out what the real deal is. This seems particularly true with green jobs where the promise of employment (getting a job, keeping a job) can overwhelm common sense. In simplest terms, green jobs are those where you work for or own a company or organization that specializes in offering a green service or product. Their “mission” is green. In addition, green jobs are those where you provide a unique green service within a more conventional business or organizational setting. In the latter circumstance, for example, you might be the sustainability coordinator for a grocery store chain. The grocery store may sell organic and/or local food or other environmentally friendly products, but this is just part of what they do. Their “mission” is to sell groceries, green or not.

Most green building jobs fall into existing Department of Labor job categories. They require a familiar set of skills with some additions, as well as an expanded knowledge base. A good example would be a roofer that installs photovoltaic (solar electric) roofing shingles. Another example would be a plumber that installs dual flush toilets or indoor plumbing systems that allow you to reuse greywater, such as water that drains from the shower or clothes washer.

There are exceptions, such as the energy auditor or rater job titles that have emerged recently. These exceptions can require new skills and new knowledge.

In either case, retraining, or training is required to perform the job effectively. Due to stimulus funding there is money for developing green job training programs right now, as well as money to help the unemployed take these programs once developed. Educational institutions around the country have used this funding to take advantage of the growing interest in green building and to help those who want green building jobs to skill up so they can qualify for them. When holding an information session recently for green building education courses I’m involved with, I was, not surprisingly, asked the obvious – "Will I get a job if I take this course?"

Training does not create work where it isn’t, and there is no denying that the building industry is cool, if not frigid. Many in workforce development will agree that money for job creation has not been as forth coming as money for job training, although that's beginning to change. In Santa Barbara, for example, there is discussion of paid trade apprenticeships to green building contracting firms.

But in a rather bleak market, I do see opportunities in the green building arena: it is in upgrading existing buildings to reduce operational costs, in designing and building high end high performance projects that will future-proof against rising operational costs, and in long term planning of sustainable developments. And we can anticipate that more, and more stringent, environmental and building performance policies and codes will force the issue.

Getting a green job requires the same perseverance as a non-green job…but in a market where it’s hard to get ANY job, standing out is a good thing. That’s where training associated with a nationally recognized credential can help. This year, the nine-month Sustainable Building Advisor (SBA) Certificate Course will be offered at nearly 25 locations around North America (including six locations in Canada). This course, offered through the National Sustainable Building Advisor Program (NaSBAP) and in its 10th year, prepares students for a national exam to earn the CSBA credential. Graduates have been hired, promoted, and respected for completing the course and achieving this credential (a video showcasing successful graduates is available on the NaSBAP website).

The American Institute of Architects has approved the SBA course for 100 Learning Units, and the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) has approved the course for
LEED AP credential maintenance credits. It also fulfills the LEED Green Associate exam eligibility criteria of an education program that addresses green building principles.

In a lousy job market, sitting on your hands is NOT an option. If you are unemployed, or if your job is in jeopardy, think about up-skilling with green job training. And, if you are on unemployment, be sure to check with your local educational provider to see how you can apply for funding to cover training costs. Good luck and G'bless!

Kathleen O’Brien is Editor of Building Capacity Blog, Program Director of the non-profit National Sustainable Building Advisor Program, and Founder of O'Brien & Company, the oldest green building consultancy in the Northwest. O'Brien & Company also offers highly regarded study sessions to prepare for the USGBC LEED exams.

Did you enjoy this article?  You might also like these Building Capacity Blog articles: 
Time to Deal with Your LEED AP Credential
Do I Need A Green Building Credential?
SBAi: Introducing the Next Generation of SBA Education & Service
CEFPI Award Celebrates Synergy Between Learning and Learning Facilities
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