San Jose, Calif. As the economy sheds jobs, community colleges across the country are reporting a surge of unemployed workers enrolling in courses that offer training for “green-collar” jobs.
Students are learning how to install solar panels, repair wind turbines, produce biofuels and do other work related to renewable energy.
“I think the opportunities in this field are going to be huge,” said Rudy Gastelo, a part-time handyman who left the construction industry two years ago. “I’m not getting that 9-to-5 paycheck, so I’m looking forward to maybe getting a job within a solar company.”
To meet growing demand, two-year colleges are launching or expanding green job training with money from the federal stimulus package.
Students and schools are betting that President Barack Obama’s campaign to promote alternative energy and curb global warming will create millions of well-paying green jobs that do not require a four-year degree.
Gastelo, 32, is learning how to install solar power systems at San Jose City College, which has long waiting lists for such classes.
But the steep economic downturn has not spared the green energy industry, which had been expanding rapidly before the financial crisis. Many renewable-power firms are now canceling projects, laying off workers or selling themselves to competitors because business has dried up.
“It’s going to be a very tough year. A lot of companies are not going to make it,” said Ron Pernick, co-founder of the market research firm Clean Edge Inc.
Many newly trained workers are having trouble finding jobs, and some people worry that schools could end up producing too many workers for too few jobs.
“Even in these areas with great potential, the number of actual positions is way down from where they could be,” said Barry Sedlick, who chairs the California Green Collar Jobs Council.
But many college officials believe there will be strong demand for green-collar workers once the economy rebounds and governments move to limit greenhouse gas emissions and require more alternative energy.
The federal stimulus package sets aside tens of billions of dollars to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. It will also create thousands of jobs retrofitting government buildings and public housing to make them more energy-efficient.
“The recovery package will help move industry forward and offer a lot of opportunities for workers at all levels,” said Mindy Feldbaum, director of work-force development programs at the National Institute for Work and Learning.
The renewable energy industry generated about 500,000 jobs and $43 billion revenue in the U.S. in 2007. The much broader energy-efficiency industry generated 8.6 million jobs and $1 trillion in revenue, according to a report issued in January by the American Solar Energy Society.
The study projected that the two sectors could employ 16 million to 37 million people by 2030, depending on government policy.