Jobs in Energy: The Rollercoaster Ride vs. Skydiving
Many Americans currently working in the fossil fuels sector of the energy industry are being promised new hope and prosperity in 'green jobs'
President Barack Obama and new climate change legislation promises to create millions of “green jobs” within the renewable energy sector. But are millions of Americans ready to trade-in their current jobs in the fossil fuels sector for a chance at a new, untested approach to revamping our energy needs and workforce development?
In my opinion, the situation can be compared to the choice between riding a rollercoaster, and skydiving from a plane.
The well-established fossil fuels sector consists of utilities, coal mining and oil and gas extraction industries, and was comprised of about 1.27 million workers in 2007.
Like a rollercoaster, employment in the fossil fuels sector is often characterized by the ups-and-downs and twists-and-turns associated with the economy and sector markets. Employees may land new jobs, earn huge bonuses, and even get laid-off–all in the same year. But there is no question that these jobs have proven to be a soft spot for minorities and anyone lacking higher education.
In southern states like Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, where poverty and lack of education ranks high, people have been able to provide middle-class lives for their families by working in refineries or on oil rigs. In good times they have been awarded nice salaries and great benefits, but have experienced salary cuts and even layoffs during low market sessions. Still, for the most part, many of them have learned to weather the down-turns, and are accustomed to the shifts. But the term “green jobs” brings a whole new concept to the work environment, and requires a huge leap of faith for many of these people.
How many Americans are willing to leap from the plane with nothing but the parachute of a government promise? Most folks who skydive usually enjoy the experience, and are glad that they took the jump. But what if your family’s well-being depended on it?
Vice President Biden suggests that green jobs, which use renewable energy resources, reduce pollution, and conserve energy and natural resources, can create a pathway to a strong middle class in America. He says that, “At a time when good jobs at good wages are harder and harder to come by, we must find new, innovative opportunities.”
The Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, business, environmental, and community leaders working to catalyze a clean energy revolution, have drafted “The New Apollo Program,” which is a plan to invest $500 billion over 10 years and help create 5 million jobs. The program even goes to the extent of calculating the state-by-state benefits of the plan, and outlining exactly how many jobs will be created in each state.
Most people can agree that our country needs to move towards cleaner, more efficient means of energy. And the thought of well paying, long-term employment in the process makes the deal sound even better. But do we trust the parachute?
So I ask again… Would you prefer to ride the old rollercoaster of fossil fuels jobs, or take the skydive plunge of green jobs?
André Williams is the founder and principal consultant of Energy Relations—a full service firm that specializes in providing public relations and communications services for businesses and organizations in the energy industry. He has over 11 years experience providing consultation in the energy, environmental, and government sectors.