Friday, February 13, 2009

The future of work is 'green collar'

Who says two wrongs don't make a right? On the one hand, you have the worst economic climate in living memory; on the other, you have an unprecedented environmental crisis. But what do you get when you mix the two together? "Green-collar" jobs.

Politicians are currently tripping over themselves to talk up this form of modern-day alchemy. We can help to reduce both of the grave threats facing us, they say, by creating a vast army of green-collar workers who will set about doing the hard graft needed to decarbonise our economy.

It's estimated that 800,000 people in the UK are already employed in the "green sector", a figure he said would soon rise to more than one million. Elsewhere, Barack Obama has spoken of creating five million green-collar jobs in the US via his economic stimulus plan.

But what exactly is a green-collar job? And, more importantly, how do people go about getting one during this period of fast-rising unemployment? Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the term is being used to describe a vast range of jobs, some of which could probably be better described as brackish-brown than verdant green.

"It's an extremely big market," says Andy Cartland, managing director of Acre Resources, a recruitment agency based in central London and specialising in "top-end, 60K plus" green jobs. "Typically, green collar describes a role that hopes to have a positive environmental and/or social impact. Many jobs are about lessening the environmental impact of construction and energy projects, such as, reducing the impact of a new car park. It doesn't just describe ecologists looking for newts in a pond, as it did a few years ago."

Cartland lists some of the jobs that have been advertised by his agency in recent weeks - wind engineer, biofuel scientist, climate change lawyer, marine ecologist. All of them, he says, require a high level of experience, training and qualifications - and, furthermore, are predominantly based in London and the south-east.

Recent graduates should not consider this a gold-rush sector, he warns. "Employers we speak to want experience. There are a lot of graduates coming on to the market with an environmental management degree, or an MSc in climate change, but they still need relevant work experience first. Also, there is a suspicion among employers of people who want to be 'deep green'. If they are a Greenpeace-type person it might not wash with a big corporate."

Away from the world of high-salaried, high-spec jobs, the term green-collar typically describes roles in the energy-saving or "clean tech" sectors - tasks such as installing wind turbines, solar panels or loft insulation. Steven Proudfoot, whose company Asset Skills advises the government on the training requirements of sectors such as construction, says that one of the boom areas is facilities management.

"It is one of the fastest-growing and most recession-resistant sectors in the country," he says. "Buildings need maintaining, servicing and managing - catering, window-cleaning, grass cutting, boiler maintenance. Ever-tightening regulations mean that we now have tough energy and waste targets, and staff have to be trained and employed to help companies meet them."

Another key area of green job creation is housing. Two years ago, Mark Lamble retired from the army after serving for 24 years and reaching the rank of company sergeant major. Using his resettlement money, he retrained as a domestic energy assessor and now works in the South Hams area of Devon, issuing energy performance certificates (a compulsory part of the home information pack, or Hips, since 2008 in England and Wales) to homeowners wishing to sell their homes. "I'm not a green, I'm just doing my job," he says. "I rate their home by checking the boiler, cavity walls etc, and then doing a heat-loss test. The higher the score, the less CO2 emissions the home is creating."

Lamble says that the property market downturn is hurting him, but that the new energy regulations placed on landlords last October have helped to compensate: "It's not been easy. I don't make anywhere near the wage I was on in the forces. Energy assessors in my area make about £35,000. But this is a growth industry. I now see vans from domestic insulation firms on the roads all the time."

This looks like a canny observation. Today, the government is expected to announce that one in four homes in the UK will be offered an "eco makeover" to help cut emissions and reduce so-called fuel poverty. The move, the government hopes, will also trigger a huge surge in skills training and create thousands of jobs. But if this sounds appealing, remember that recruitment specialists are also advising clients to "green up" their CVs. Last year, a survey of employers by the recruitment website, found that a third said they would turn down a job applicant for having poor green credentials. Best to strike "enjoy foreign travel/fast cars" from your list of hobbies and interests.

No comments:

Post a Comment