Proponents of an economic migration towards sustainability often tote “Green Jobs” as one of the reasons for pressing and supporting a societal shift. The pitch is often given in hopes of securing funding and government legislation that would steer the U.S. towards new standards of efficiency or implementing renewable energy. We can see a common tactic: throw out large, nondescript numbers as vague promises for new employment opportunities, but few actually walk through an explanation of where these new jobs will actually occur. Companies would do better to take the extra step and show people that a new workforce would not just be found in constructing wind turbines and solar panels, but that these changes permeate through the veins of the economy that connect our industries to offer jobs at numerous venues.
According to fellow blogger Houston Neal, at softwareadvice.com, one of these industries set to feel the repercussions of a greener economy is electrical contracting. In some of his recent articles he points to how measures in energy efficiency upgrades, new grid improvements and renewable energy installations (the production of which all bring their own respective jobs) will create a new demand for electrical work on all scales of development. One of his bullets is pointing to a study by the American Solar Energy Society projects renewable energy jobs for electricians to grow approximately 900% by 2030, just in the state of Colorado alone.
I took the chance to pick Houston’s brain a bit with some questions of my own:
TC: Could this improve the chances of making societal changes and increase the likelihood of people migrating to sustainable lifestyles?
HN: Sure. I think individuals genuinely want to adopt sustainable living and building practices, they just don’t know how and often don’t understand the costs and benefits. In transitioning into energy contractors, electricians have an opportunity to assume the roles of both consultant and contractor. They can advise building owners and homeowners on how to improve the energy efficiency of their properties while reaching that desired return on investment.
TC: Is it the responsibility of contractors and designers to become more proficient in these systems?
HN: As much as your and my responsibility to be caretakers of our planet. They have an opportunity to make real change, but responsibility doesn’t fall on their shoulders alone.
TC: Should it be expected that different trades are increasing their level of technological proficiency to incorporate software systems…?
HN: Just like “green” technologies improve the energy efficiency of a building while reducing operating costs, electrical estimating software improves the efficiency of a contractor’s business while reducing their project costs. They should certainly increase their level of technological proficiency to take full advantage of the technology. But whether they implement a system in the first place is ultimately just a business decision.
TC: The title of “Electricians” covers a rather large scale, anything from utility grade projects to residential applications. Do you think a particular part of the sector/industry will flourish more than others?
HN: Initially, most of the opportunity will be in commercial retrofits because of the low-hanging fruit. Take lighting upgrades for example. There are many incentives for building owners to replace outdated lamps with energy efficient alternatives. Not to mention, millions of buildings have antiquated lighting systems.
TC: What can consumers be doing to help bridge the gap and make the most of a trade’s growing skill set?
HN: Start a dialogue with a local contractor. They’ll know what kinds of retrofits make sense for your region (e.g. solar power vs wind turbines) and offer advice on how to get the best return on your retrofit investment.
TC: As electrical skills become more important to more areas of American society, could the industry need to broaden the range of industries they need to interact with and form interconnections with new pockets of industry and technologies?
HN: Sure, we’ll likely see electricians branch out into other industries. Take manufacturing as an example. According to a report from the American Solar Energy Society (ASES), a typical 250-person wind turbine manufacturing company has two electricians as employees.
TC: As these systems become installed on various applications at various scales, it seems that the installation alone may only be the first piece of the puzzle with greater and more complex infrastructure requiring more real-time oversight and maintenance. Can we expect to see the number of electrical contractors brought on board as permanent staff rise over time as a result?
HN: Many companies, especially those with large assets (e.g. manufacturing facilities, large commercial buildings, refineries) will always need an electrician as part of their maintenance team, but I’m not sure there will be increasing demand for more full-time staff. In most cases, building owners will continue to contract out the work.
Undoubtedly, electrical contracting is only one example of many job profiles that could see a bump in response to sustainable pursuits (we have a lot way to go with plenty to fix), but it also serves as an example for how we can begin to attack the problem of education and implementation at both ends (consumer and supplier.) Instead of becoming proficient in new methods and technologies and waiting for clients to ask for them contractors have the opportunity to use their base of technical expertise to suggest new facets for projects to their clients. A lack of knowledge is still sustainability’s biggest adversary. A recent article on greenbiz.com drew attention to a poll that found 70% of Americans have never even heard of the term “Smart Grid” let alone know what it means.
While I agree with Houston that responsibility is not solely on contractors to push change upon their clients, at the same time contractors are industry professionals that understand how the intricacies of complex systems actually work–something that we can never really ask consumers to understand (that is why we have specialized professionals.) I think there is a degree of opportunity that comes with a professional level of knowledge and experience that can, and arguably should, be expected and exploited. If we are building a better education within the consumer public and the contractors that service it then the market (and the jobs that it dictates) will follow suit.
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