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Workers in Minnesota are keen for 'green' jobs

As the United States becomes a more environmentally responsible nation, the demand for "green" workers is on the rise.

But what exactly is a "green" job? According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, a "green" job is one that directly results in an environmental benefit.

In southeastern Minnesota, there are more than 35,000 jobs that are considered "green" or have the potential to be so. Some of the most prevalent "green" or "green"-potential jobs in the area include construction trades, software, mechanical or electrical engineers, and environmental scientists. Because the region is home to so much agriculture, areas such as biofuel production are also on the rise. A Minnesota Green Jobs Task Force analysis projects an increase in "green" jobs of up to 35 percent statewide by 2020.

The task force’s analysis also shows that the vast majority of "green" jobs are in the areas of "green" products and services. Midwest Energy Products is a Rochester business in the "green" services sector. The two-year-old company designs and installs renewable energy products, including solar panels, solar hot water heaters and wind turbines.

"Before the economy tanked, it was starting to ramp up pretty good," said Roger Pahl, a partner at Midwest Energy Products.


Since then, state and federal tax credit and rebate programs have helped keep interest strong. Pahl hopes that as demand for the products increases, prices will come down, creating growth in the industry.

For those hoping to work in a "green" industry, education is a must. DEED research shows that nearly 70 percent of all "green" jobs open in Minnesota require training beyond a high school diploma. In contrast, only 44 percent of all open jobs in the state require post-secondary education.

The majority of workers on Midwest Energy Products’ projects are subcontracted trades people such as electricians, plumbers and framers who are not trained specifically as "green" workers but adapt their skills for "green" projects.

"They are applying their skills in a different direction," Pahl said. Electricians, for example, can easily go to a "green" job.

"Power is power," he said. "When you send power through the wire, it works the same way regardless. And then it’s just hooking up the components which is different."

For those in construction and trades, attending trade school or being an apprentice will provide them with the skills they need, according to Pahl.

DEED research shows that 26 percent of "green" job vacancies lie in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (collectively referred to as STEM). For those aiming to land a "green" job, education in these areas is essential.

Brittany Stewart is beginning her "green" career in Rochester after finishing a college degree in environmental studies and biology, areas that fall under the STEM umbrella. A 2010 graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College, she is serving as the Living Green Outreach Specialist thorough the Minnesota GreenCorps, part of the AmeriCorps program. She is helping area residents learn to live green by working with RNeighbors to educate and raise awareness around environmental issues.


Stewart hopes to go on to graduate school and then a career in environmental policy and management. She says working for the Environmental Protection Agency would be her dream job.

"I feel like I’m learning new stuff every day and I don’t think it will ever get boring," she said.

Workers such as Stewart are well situated for "green" careers. The economic sectors that include environmental education, regulation and compliance, and pollution reduction and prevention encompass more than 50 percent of "green: job vacancies in the state, according to DEED surveys.

Regardless of whether workers intend to work in a "green" field or not, one thing that is clear based on DEED research is that workers with "green" knowledge have an edge when it comes to a career..

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