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State’s workforce ready for green-collar jobs

jbrehm2, July 1, 2011 | View original publication

State’s workforce ready for green-collar jobs

Nebraska's workforce is well-positioned to meet an expected demand for green-collar jobs in the coming years, according to a new analysis by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Bureau of Business Research.

The report, prepared by UNL for a six-state consortium of labor departments that includes the Nebraska Department of Labor, analyzed the supply and projected the demand for 16 specific green occupations — from civil and environmental engineers to carpenters, truck drivers and electricians — in the next two years.

While some workers would need to fine-tune their skills to fill some of the expected demand for emerging green jobs, the report finds, many workers are already employed in green occupations or related occupations.

"Our findings suggest that Nebraska workers are well equipped to take advantage of emerging opportunities within green economy industries," said UNL economist Eric Thompson, the research bureau's director. "Nebraska already has many workers employed in green occupations and many additional workers in related occupations, who can readily switch into green occupations as employment opportunities grow."

The report utilized data from the 2010 Nebraska Department of Labor's Green Jobs Survey, which examined the level of green-collar employment at more than 6,000 businesses in the state. At the time of the survey, there were an estimated 30,725 green jobs in Nebraska — about 3.4 percent of the workforce. Green-collar employees were found in about 13 percent of Nebraska businesses.

The report estimated that nearly 1,700 more green jobs — defined as an occupation involved in increasing energy efficiency, utilizing or developing renewable energy resources or restoring the environment — will be added to the state's economy in the next two years. Economists believe Nebraska's workforce is well suited to take advantage of green-collar opportunities because many workers are in related occupations with overlapping skills.

Some of the areas expected to see the most demand include:

* Heating and air conditioning installers and mechanics;

* Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers;

* First-line supervisors and managers of production and operating workers;

* Recyclable material collectors; and

* Civil engineers.

"As more Nebraska businesses 'go green' through environmentally friendly operations or the delivery of green products and services, the demand for information on this segment of our state's economy and its workforce is increasing," Nebraska Commissioner of Labor Catherine D. Lang said. "Employers and workers are talking about green jobs or skills, but little information has been available in the past.

"This research provides an overview of green jobs and important information to workforce professionals, training program providers and job seekers in Nebraska."

The report does suggest that the state may see short-term difficulty to meet increased demand for civil engineers, because there are fewer workers in Nebraska in related occupations. But economists anticipate that market forces may resolve any future labor shortages by attracting out-of-state engineers to high-paying opportunities in Nebraska.

"Given time, workers will seek out the skills required to thrive in emerging industries, such as jobs within the green economy," Thompson said.

The report was prepared for the Labor Market Information Division of the Nebraska Department of Labor and The Northern Great Plains and Rocky Mountain Consortium, a six-state association composed of the labor departments of Nebraska, Iowa, Montana, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. It was accompanied by a second study that examined re-employment opportunities for displaced manufacturing and construction workers in the six states. Both reports are available at the Bureau of Business Research website, www.bbr.unl.edu.