Illinois prioritizes equitable access to green jobs on its path to 100% clean energy
"We can't outrun or hide from climate change. There is no time to lose. Illinois is taking action in the fight to stop and even reverse the damage that's been done to our climate."
With those words Gov. JB Pritzker signed the state's ambitious Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) last fall.
CEJA aims to get the state to 100% clean energy by 2050. Not only does it address climate change, it also includes significant workforce development components, including an emphasis on building a more diverse workforce with equitable access to the skills needed to get green jobs.
Green jobs growth
"Green jobs have shown stability in Illinois in recent years," according to Green Jobs Now: Illinois, an analysis of the green labor market in the state by nonprofit news organization WorkingNation and research firm Emsi Burning Glass.
The report projects that employment for green jobs in Illinois will increase by 6.5% over the next five years, outpacing the national forecast of 5.3%. It also finds there was demand last year for more than 9,000 new green workers in the state with the current green workforce estimated at more than 30,700.
What's a green job?
In our Green Jobs Now reports, we look at different categories when we break down green job opportunities.
Core jobs have "a primary responsibility associated with the green economy." The data indicates the top core green job in Illinois is a solar sales representative.
Enabled jobs have "primary responsibilities separate or tangential to the green economy" with a building and general maintenance technician identified as the primary job.
Not to be confused with enabled jobs, enabling jobs "aren't associated with green tech per se, but they support the green economy."
The report says, "Green enabling jobs run the gamut ... In all, over 96 different specialized occupations were represented in the jobs identified as green enabling in Illinois in 2021."
The report finds there are just under two million workers in Illinois who could be green workers. These are "workers who are likely able to be upskilled at a lower cost, and on a shorter time horizon, for employment in a green job." Among those who could make that transition to the green economy are laborers/warehouse workers, retail sales associates, and cashiers.
According to the data, the average green jobs salary in Illinois is $67,336.
Equity: Front and center
CEJA sees the further transition to a greener economy as an opportunity to invest in training a diverse workforce for the jobs of the future, both near and distant.
"By being called the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, it really thinks about the equity component and how we meet folks where they are and give them a variety of career paths and entry points along the way," says Sylvia Garcia, director, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).
CEJA has the support of the labor leaders.
"We're creating literally tens of thousands of new jobs in the green energy space," says Pat Devaney, secretary-treasurer, Illinois AFL-CIO. The union represents some 900,000 workers and 1,500 affiliates across the state.
With its history in fossil fuels, Devaney says it's important to engage the union membership.
"The first real piece that we did with our affiliates was an education piece and an acknowledgment that, 'Hey, we believe climate change is a thing and we know we need to transition to a greener energy economy.'"
"We all, as a group, sat down and said: 'Here's what we need to do. It's the right thing to do, but it's also economically in our members' best interest because this transition is going to be happening with or without us.'"
• Laura Aka is senior editorial producer at WorkingNation, a nonprofit news organization that reports on the challenges facing the U.S. workforce.