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A Closer Look at Green Jobs in Manufacturing

Lory Antonucci, Manpower Manufacturing
Nov 2, 2020 8:48:31 AM

With the more recent conversation about a “new” Green Jobs economy, we miss that in so many ways, “Green Jobs” are already here – especially in Manufacturing. At the very least, Manufacturing for better or worse has been dealing with environmental compliance, health and safety and energy efficiency for decades. And in the last several years we see a bright side of the most current innovations in digital manufacturing technology: operations running more efficiently and conserving resources. Technology such as automation, AR/VR, cloud IT, and remote sensing not only significantly enhances efficiency, they also allow for cleaner operations. The global pandemic has accelerated technology uptake, giving us an even stronger platform for green manufacturing’s horizon - one that’s cleaner and more connected than ever before.

So who is doing this work already and where will we see job growth? Many existing jobs – such as environmental technicians, automation technicians and solar panel technicians – are “green” because they enable greater efficiency and/or cleaner outputs. Those jobs will keep scaling plus we anticipate growth beyond conventional green manufacturing roles. We’re seeing emerging signs of a higher value, fuller life cycle, green workforce across more functions beyond efficiency and basic compliance. Almost every social, economic, technical and natural stakeholder is driving good green jobs:

  • Industry – demands a need for resource efficiencies, sources of innovation from nature’s genius (materials, process, design) and better stewardship strategies.
  • Workforce – desires jobs that have a mix of commerce, science, social and connected business.
  • Educators – strive to deliver education for “ready to work” skills with longer shelf lives that are connected to the needs of both business and society.
  • Communities – are under pressure to reinvent, reclaim, grow and secure sustainable community life including the natural, human, and social systems.
  • Government – needs to answer how and where to regulate, to invest in new research, to fund conversion of communities, to invest in upskilling and of course to build more sustainable infrastructures.

The Job Generators

Here are some of my favorite and industry’s emerging areas of focus and practice that I believe will drive business and social value and major green job generation: Biomimicry, Materials Innovation, Green Chemistry, Renewable Energy Management, Lifecycle Management, Lean Manufacturing, Organizational Resilience, Adaptive Leadership, Equity, and Regenerative Capitalism. Even this partial list of skill arenas that most of us have heard about may not have been counted is as increasing business value, accelerating green job generation, and creating fabulously attractive careers.

So what are some future green jobs in Manufacturing? Well, first, let’s look beyond the traditional definition of “green jobs” as those working to directly impact the environment or perform “clean” jobs (clean processes, clean manufacturing, etc.). A fuller landscape would include jobs in Clean Process & Product Innovation, Resource Alternatives and Conservation and, critically, Connecting the Systems. Many of the roles sitting just around the corner are fairly novel, but many are focused on connecting conventional work and processes to the new, expanding green horizon. Without those connector roles, the social, economic and natural ecosystem won’t be fully functional.

Let’s bring it back to the beginning of this blog where I mentioned that new era of Digital makes Green more possible and practical than ever before. My colleague, Rebekah Kowalski, described 10 Digital Era Job Design Changes to apply and reap results. This is also a great starting place for the connection between future work and Green. Here are a few jobs that highlight each job design change:

  1. Quantitative – Bio Statistician; Energy, Water & Material Balance Planner
  2. Integrative & Cross-Functional – Organizational Biologist; Chief Sustainability Officer; Supply Network Manager
  3. Optimization-Focused – Biomimicry Manufacturing Specialist; Materials Scientist; Campus Energy Optimization Manager
  4. Mobile/Virtual/Remote – Solar System Installer; Remote Inspections Drone Pilot
  5. Commercial – Environmental Accountant; Brand Manager; Community Impact Analyst
  6. Predictive – Smart Factories Architect; Workforce Planner; Validation Engineer
  7. Sustainable Solution-Focused – Industry Segment Futurist; Business Impact Analyst; Design Engineer
  8. Partner-Network Dependent – Urban Planner; Business Ethicist; Supply Chain Transparency Auditor
  9. Mission & Stakeholder-Focused – Community Network Coordinator; Product Innovation Strategist
  10. Tech-Assisted – Robotics Technician; Green Automation Technician

More organizations are including broader Green commitments not only in their CSR strategy but in their business strategy overall. More are seeing that innovation is accelerated by nature’s genius as well as green interests are serving to attract our mission-oriented younger workforce. So I encourage my clients to take a 5P mindset; consider People, Planet, Products and Profit, anchored by Purpose. This mindset gives us a more realistic and holistic understanding of how to change and improve, make sustainability work, and incorporate resilience and adaptability into our businesses and communities. Not only is this healthier for humans and the planet, it also drives an exciting new horizon in commercial and social value with related jobs that we are only just starting to imagine.

Everybody looks good in green if you ask me! I welcome the opportunity to discuss any and all green manufacturing workforce topics with you. Reach out to me and my team here.


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