Where the jobs will be: Obama's green energy economy and you

One of the most poignant lines in Max Ehrmann's Desiderata is the advice that one should "Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time."

While the past few years have made that advice seem old-fashioned, the recent economic downturn has breathed new life into it. All of a sudden, people without jobs are waxing rhapsodic about the jobs they used to have, and people who are still employed are realizing just how lucky they are.

While it is probably too early to discuss the American economy's path to recovery, it never hurts to consider which industries are most likely to be hiring in the coming months. One major influence might be Barack Obama's much-vaunted plan for an alternative-energy economy. By stimulating growth in a variety of sectors, the alternative energy economy could, effectively, be a blueprint for the up-and-coming job market.

While Obama has yet to release many specifics on this plan, the co-chairman of the Obama/Biden transition team, John Podesta, may provide a clue. In his day job, Podesta runs the Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think tank. CAP has already drafted a green-energy stimulus plan; with several programs that are ready to go, it would create two million jobs and would cost a relatively meager $50 billion. Given Podesta's proximity to the Presidency, it seems likely that at least part of it will become reality within the next year.

Green Autos: Obama has made it very clear that he intends to directly tie any automotive bailout to the development of green technologies. CAP's plan calls for a 4% per year increase in fuel-efficiency standards, as well as investment in new battery technology for plug-in hybrids. Automakers that are poised to go forth with fuel-efficient models and companies that deal in battery technology seem like good bets. Moreover, CAP's "Cash for Clunkers" program could easily lead to a wide variety of both blue-collar and white-collar jobs.

Green Building: CAP has proposed a green-infrastructure fund for retrofitting existing public buildings to make them more efficient; furthermore, its "Weatherization Assistance Program" would help homeowners improve their energy consumption profiles. Combined with tax credits for companies that make energy conservation products (like insulation and double-pane windows), this promises a major boost to the construction and home-improvement industries. As hard as it may be to imagine right now, home-improvement and construction industries could actually be hiring in a few months. It would also worthwhile to consider less-prominent companies in products ranging from renewable flooring to energy-efficient lighting, that are poised to emerge.

Large-Scale Transportation and Energy Infrastructure: From the plans for a "smart" electric grid to wind and solar farms to vast mass-transit projects, the CAP has called for massive investment in the kinds of large-scale public works programs that are potential game-changers. From bus and rolling stock manufacturers to alternative energy companies like Cleantech America and Coskata, the future looks bright for jobs across the skill spectrum.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He's already thinking about a job as a green pundit. It doesn't hurt that his skin has a slightly olive shade.
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