Gaining Concensus on 'Green Jobs'
Business and professional opportunities
After a hearty lunch that included more spirited discussions on energy policy implementation, Black Enterprise Editorial Director Sonia Alleyne, and moderator of the second panel at the Black Enterprise “Conversation on Energy” forum, got straight to the point when she asked panelists to describe the “green jobs” being created in their companies.
Richard E. Williams, president of Shell WindEnergy Inc. joked about the popularity of the green jobs phenomenon, “I worked for Shell for 30 years, 28 were with Shell pipeline and no one wanted to speak to me as long as I was with the pipeline sector. You start a wind company and everyone wants to speak to you,” he said. He went on to explain how the renewable energy workforce is not only popular conversation, but it is also popular for future job opportunities.
“Shell’s wind company has a much more diverse workforce than we did when I worked in the pipeline side,” said Richard. “And it is important to understand that green jobs don’t just constitute engineers,” he explained. “We have accountants, lawyers and several other employees who are just as important to our operations,” he noted.
When asked for the challenges faced with trying to pursue green jobs or new energy opportunities, Lloyd Yates, president and CEO of Progress Energy Carolinas said, “African Americans are not taking advantage of the certifications and retraining programs available. And we don’t see enough minority companies responding to our requests for services,” he added.
Christopher C. Womack, executive vice president and president, external affairs with Georgia Power agreed, saying “We have to become creative. … We may have to break-down certain jobs and divide the work, or do something that allows us the capacity to fulfill the job.”
The panelists went on to explain examples of how their companies have tried to include minorities in their job or contract selection processes.
“We need ideas and vision,” said Shell WindEnergy’s Williams. “If you have that, Shell will help you.” He then went on to explain Shell’s GameChanger program that helps entrepreneurs fund innovative ideas.
Just as with the morning’s opening session that addressed how to go from policy to engagement in the new energy economy, each of the panelists agreed that solutions will be multifaceted and long-standing.
“These solutions are not immediate,” said Womack. “In this microwave society, everyone is looking for that quick fix, or the silver bullet, but it doesn’t exist.”
Carolyn Green, Managing Partner, EnerGreen Capital Management LLC, outlined a route to becoming an entrepreneur in the industry. “You should figure out what you do best, and concentrate on fitting your skill set or attributes to the problem at hand,” she explained.
Yates added, “When we talk about green jobs we have the perception that they are really technical positions, but there are a lot of opportunities that do not require extremely technical training,” he said. “Caulking windows for weatherization is not that complicated,” he pointed-out.
The gentlemen on the panel all agreed that established policies would help decide where to invest money, and thus create more jobs. But Green disagreed, and said, “Smaller businesses are better fixed to compete within the hodge-podge of an industry that lacks a true energy policy.”
Not so, said Womack. “Small or large, before you make an investment, you should know the future ramifications.”
Green then pointed-out that the lack of an established policy, “Makes a window of opportunity for small businesses, because larger corporations will not want to touch these areas.”
As the final session concluded, it seemed that it is going to take some time until there is an agreed-upon definition of what is a green job. Opportunities for accountants, lawyers, marketing strategists and many other valuable professions exist within the realm of green jobs and the new energy economy being pushed by President Barack Obama. Creativity and ingenuity will provide a major advantage to professionals and entrepreneurs searching for new opportunities in these unchartered waters.
André Williams is the founder and principal consultant of Energy Relations. He has over 11 years experience providing consultation in the energy, environmental, and government sectors.