The percentage of total employment associated with green goods and services has increased in the United States over the past several years, presenting employment opportunities in a number of related emerging fields. Green-economy jobs hold promise for people with disabilities, and inclusion practices would also improve the outlook in this growing sector. An increase in green occupations was spurred by the Great Recession in 2008, by increased climate change awareness, and by the trajectory to develop jobs in the anticipated low-carbon economy.
A focused effort to engage and train people with disabilities in green fields would bring this diverse, talented and largely untapped portion of the U.S. workforce into the emerging economy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines green jobs as positions in which workers’ duties involve making production processes more environmentally friendly and less dependent on natural resources. According to a 2013 analysis by the bureau, there were 3.4 million green jobs in the United States in the fourth quarter of 2011. Twelve percent of Americans report one or more disabilities, and only one in about every three Americans with disabilities is employed. This condition presents a crucial opportunity to further employ people with disabilities in a growing labor market.
On the legislative front, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funded Pathways Out of Poverty grants and Energy Training Partnership grants. Both programs provide green job training for individuals with disabilities, and displaced workers among others. However, misconceptions about the capabilities of people with disabilities are often cited as the reason why employers don’t hire those with disabilities. Efforts to make green careers available and accessible to people with disabilities will ultimately benefit not only employees, but also employers. Employers would be expanding their pools of talent, skills and creative business solutions by taking the opportunity to fully employ those with disabilities in this sector. Furthermore, new markets become accessible when people with disabilities are employed, and research has proven customers prefer to patronize businesses that employ people with disabilities. In order to include more people with disabilities in green occupations we recommend the following:
- The application of strict standards for funding green industry training providers
- Creating an inventory of current training programs to address potential gaps
- Development of a federal partnership with green industry employers that includes hiring agreements and career advancement options
- Tools and training manuals to provide funders, counselors and people with disabilities better information about the green industry job market.
As employment options arise to provide these green goods and services, people with disabilities ought to have equitable employment opportunities in this growth sector of the American economy. A focused strategy to train and engage people with disabilities in the green economy can provide a talented and largely untapped segment of the U.S. workforce, a greater opportunity to participate than previously realized.
by David Filiberto, PhD
David Filiberto, PhD, is an evaluator and social scientist with expertise in research methods, particularly the design and administration of survey instruments. David is developing for the Employment and Disability Institute in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations a research agenda focused on sustainability and the effects a changing climate has on vulnerable populations such as those with disabilities, the aging, and indigenous peoples. He has performed federally funded research on the effects a changing climate has on the aging population. He holds a PhD in Policy Analysis