An overlooked opportunity to get America back to work: “new collar jobs” in green infrastructure, with accessible onramps for learners and workers

Posted on April 7, 2021

Providing economic opportunity for all Americans is a central challenge of our time. Expanding individuals’ opportunities to connect to quality work and achieve family sustaining careers has never been more important as the nation seeks to recover from the pandemic.   

We see a tremendous option for a wide range of learners and job seekers to power their careers: “new collar jobs” in green infrastructure. Coined by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, “new collar jobs” have mostly referred to information technology opportunities. But we think the “new collar” term is perfectly suited for jobs that span energy and water among other sectors, that we see as supporting “green infrastructure.”    

These jobs not only provide salaries in the top half of the U.S. wage scale (and often much better), but they also offer promising STEM-driven career prospects, opportunities to drive environmental and sustainability outcomes, and large and growing demand by employers, all without requiring traditional 4-year degrees. In additional to direct employment in green jobs, we see many onramps to these careers: for example, associated jobs in the “built environment,” such as manufacturing and construction, provide compelling early career opportunities that build the foundational skills and experiences that unlock additional green job opportunities.   

Overall, there are millions of jobs in the water, energy, and green infrastructure sectors:  energy efficiency alone represents 2.4 million jobs and is growing three times faster than the rest of the economy. As an example, electricians trained to install electric vehicle charging stations drive decarbonization, enjoy significant wage premiums, and are established in one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. Moreover, these jobs are in all regions of the country – not just isolated in a few wealthy cities – and provide opportunities across rural and urban communities alike. However, far too few people are even aware these jobs exist, let alone know how to pursue them.   

So what are new collar jobs in green infrastructure? Working with Julius senior adviser Joe Sarubbi – an industry leader with 45 years of experience in technical education, training, and workforce development – we have compiled a database of occupations, career journeys, and skills maps for new collar jobs in green infrastructure. A few examples are below:  

  • Energy Efficiency Technicians assist with data collection for energy audits and installation of energy efficiency upgrades to residential & commercial buildings and mechanical systems. They drive a direct and measurable impact on reducing energy demand and supporting de-carbonization, and utilize STEM skills to run calculations, use sensitive equipment, and deploy simulation modeling to determine energy loss and take corrective measures. They have promising career journeys that don’t require 4-year degrees – becoming Building Analysts, Residential Auditors, or Facilities Managers – as  well as career progression opportunities with 4-year degrees such as Engineering and Architecture. These jobs can be obtained with a high school degree or equivalency, with entry level experience construction preferred (which can be obtained in ~1 year through many common construction jobs).  
  • Building Automation Systems (BAS) Technicians install, repair, and maintain computer-based control systems that control and monitor a building’s mechanical and electrical equipment including HVAC and energy management systems. They also reduce energy demand by troubleshooting, testing and repairing or replacing computercontrolled equipment, such as HVAC, lighting, computer networking, that manages a building’s comfort, efficiency and safety. BAS Technicians can progress to become Building Operators or Building Engineers via additional work experience, certifications, or 2-year degrees. As building controls have become much more computer-based and sophisticated, BAS Technicians have the opportunity for significant growth in STEM skills and careers. Most BAS Technicians learn their trade by attending a technical school, completing an apprenticeship, or receiving on-the-job training in HVAC or electrical occupations.  
  • Other occupations include Wind Technicians, Controls Installers, Water and Wastewater Technicians and Operators, and CNC Operators and Technicians, among many other roles. These jobs are all aligned in their ability to provide well-paying STEM careers and opportunities to impact the environment.   

We are developing our new collar, green infrastructure initiative through our work with major industry associations, utilities, and corporations to address their needs to attract, upskill, and retain new collar green infrastructure workers. Our ongoing work includes:  

  • Highlighting a diverse range of jobs across industries that all share common new-collar characteristics  
  • Articulating what makes them “new collar” – focusing on their STEM skills – both for initial roles and for career paths  
  • Identifying their social impact on the built environment, particularly regarding sustainability  
  • Developing a “periodic table” of new collar jobs to organize occupations that exist in different industries, but which share common traits, to make it much easier for career navigators to understand options  
  • Providing a labor market data perspective on the demand profile and forecast for occupations  

We’d welcome the opportunity to discuss our work as well as learn how we can better serve organizations seeking to bolster the green infrastructure sector. Contact us at [email protected].