Blogs & Comment

Green job growth a challenge

Much hoopla has been made about the promise of green jobs, particularly in relation to how such jobs could help alleviate the pain of a struggling manufacturing industry. But actual growth has been difficult to quantify in the North American context thus far, despite numerous projections from various industry groups and governments.
But a study released this week from the U.S. helps shed light on the kind of growth thats possible. The Pew Charitable Trusts,based in Washington, D.C., claims to have produced the first hard count of jobs that can be considered green in the U.S. Between 1998 and 2007, the number of traditional jobs grew by 3.7%, while green employment expanded at a rate of 9.1%. That amounts to 770,000 jobsstill only half a percent of all current jobs in the U.S.
Pew defined these jobs as those that boosted clean energy production and energy efficiency, and worked toward reducing greenhouse gases, conserving water and other natural resources. That includes a broad swath of tasks: engineers developing energy-efficient lighting, chemists working on environmentally friendly cleaning products, plumbers and technicians installing smart irrigation systems, and so on.
The job examples listed in the report are primarily skilled positions requiring degrees and trainingengineers, scientists, financial analysts and lawyersand have little to do with the manufacturing sector. Thats why Im somewhat skeptical of the Ontario governments claim that its Green Energy Act will create 50,000 jobs within three years. The legislation introduced this year, which is partly designed to spur renewable energy development, is also a job creation initiative targeted at the manufacturing sector. Canada lost 58,000manufacturing jobs in May alone, mostly in Ontario. A reportcommissioned by the Green Energy Act Alliance (a coalition of various environmental groups) says the act has the potential create an astounding 90,000 jobs per yearwith an investment of $47.1 billion over a decade.
I have an articlein the current issue of Canadian Businessabout an important element of the act (feed-in tariffs), but didn’t get a chance to talk much about the job creation aspect. The government hasnt been forthcoming in explaining how exactly these 50,000 jobs will be created. The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario commissioned a reportfrom London Economics International on the act, and the study casts doubt on the job creation numbers, pointing out there were 38,000 people employed directly in auto manufacturing in the province in 2008, and 56,000 architects, engineers and related professionals. The magnitude of the numbers suggests that attaining the level of jobs estimated by the government could be challenging, and would require several years to achieve,” according to the report.
I spoke with Tony Verrelli, president and CEO of small-wind turbine developer Cleanfield Energy, based in Ancaster, Ont.He had some questions about where those jobs would come from, too, and didnt get many answers from government in workshops leading up to the implementation of the act. Its a huge number and Id love to see them double that, but realistically, it could be a challenge, he says, unless theyre including every spin-off job from the clean tech industry, from the cafeteria thats set up down the street, to security personnel.
Any private sector job creation is a good thing in times like these, of course, but the danger in over-promising is that it misrepresents the enormity of the challenge. Building an entirely new industry takes time. John MacDonald, CEO of solar module manufacturer Day4 Energyin British Columbia, told me, It will, in the long run, be good for manufacturing jobs. The politicians are right in that sense. The problem is their time scale. A politicians foresight is about four years.