Workforce Development: The Foundation of a Clean Energy Future

An increasing number of states and hundreds of cities, university systems, businesses, and other entities have set 100% clean energy goals to mitigate the effects of climate change and realize economic, public health, and other societal benefits. For the past two years, IREC has convened our Vision Summit—a one-day exploration of what it will take to make these bold goals a reality. 

During the Summit, thought leaders from throughout the U.S. have highlighted how, increasingly, these goals include measures to ensure that the clean energy economy is inclusive, equitable, and reflective of the rich diversity of the United States. We’ve heard how successful clean energy policy and program design must focus not only on energy outcomes, but on training and supporting workers and creating good, family-supporting jobs.

Workforce Development: The Foundation of the Clean Energy Economy

To make all this happen, any significant effort to reach unprecedented levels of clean energy adoption requires investments in every phase of workforce developmentfrom attracting diverse workers to the industry to making connections between employers and workers with the skills they need.

Stated simply—good clean energy policy, program design, and planning integrate workforce considerations from the ground up. For this reason, bringing leading clean energy workforce thinkers to the table has been a key part of the IREC Vision Summit (check out the video of our 2020 Workforce Panel here!).

Today, we revisit what we’ve learned and offer some thoughts on why workforce development is important to 100% clean energy goals and what ‘good’ workforce strategy looks like. One blog post cannot do this subject justice, so be sure to leave us your input on what you’d like to see covered in a future blog. 

Broadly, integrating robust and research-proven workforce strategies in clean energy planning ensures:

  • Sufficient workers with the skills employers need to plan, implement, operate, and maintain clean energy technology
  • Job creation that benefits local workers, including diverse and underserved populations
  • Allied trades and professions that are empowered to contribute to the proliferation of clean energy by integrating new skills into their work

Planning: It Takes a Village

Workforce planning is a great opportunity to meaningfully involve the broader community in clean energy development, as input and ongoing engagement from many groups is needed for success. 

Community-based organizations providing a range of services to families, training and education providers (K-12, technical schools, community and other colleges), clean energy employers, organized labor, and workforce system representatives are examples of key stakeholders to develop a robust training-to-jobs pipeline.

Best Kept Secret:  Clean Energy Careers Need More Visibility

Many consumers have not yet interacted with a clean energy professional and are not familiar with the types and range of careers clean energy can offer. School and career counselors and other workforce professionals lack resources and information about clean energy careers. 

IREC provides resources to help out, like Career Maps. Resources like these, which educate relevant stakeholders about clean energy careers that are in demand in the target area, are a crucial part of any solid workforce program. 

Flexible ‘on-ramps’—or points of entry—are another important consideration in making sure target populations that could most benefit from clean energy job growth are able to access the opportunities. Tailored to the needs of target groups, on-ramps can include anything from paid internships, to training accessible on a variety of schedules and in flexible formats, to transportation and child care assistance. 

Focus Training Offerings

It’s not uncommon for clean energy policy or programs to include funding for training. Recently, we are seeing states—including New York, Massachusetts, and California—incorporate new approaches to ensuring quality training that provides high-demand, employer-aligned skills. Training investments are increasingly being allocated based on labor market projections, in alignment with technology goals (for instance, heat pump training to support building electrification goals). We are seeing a greater focus on alignment with national standards, training quality, and streamlining and reducing duplication of offerings. Finally, recognizing that access to training is often as important as the training itself, there is more emphasis than ever on removing barriers to training and employment for targeted, historically underserved populations. 

Beyond the Job Fair: Providing Meaningful Employer Engagement

The clean energy industry has a lot to offer workers, with occupations like solar installer featured as the fastest growing in the 2019 BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook

But with training dollars limited and an unemployment crisis upon us, it is more critical than ever that job-focused training is targeted to the areas of greatest demand and results in… a job! 

Effective workforce programs incorporate meaningful industry engagement that recognizes the competing priorities of employers and the flexibility needed to garner their active participation. 

Don’t Forget Allied Professions

“Clean energy” workers aren’t the only ones needed in the clean energy economy. A host of professions will layer ‘add-on’ skills to their core professions to conduct business as clean, sustainable energy becomes the norm. Workforce planning for clean energy must include resources for allied professionals to access credible professional development opportunities relevant to their jobs. 

Code officials, firefighters, apartment maintenance technicians, and real estate professionals are just a few examples of professions interacting with clean energy. The earlier these professions can be engaged through the labor and non-profit organizations representing them, the more easily their needs can be addressed as an integral part of clean energy planning. 

Workforce development is not only a crucial building block for creating a clean energy economy, it is also one of the key ways to connect the economic benefits of clean energy with those who can benefit the most. Stay tuned for more workforce insights as we work to achieve our vision of a 100% clean energy future that is resilient, reliable, and equitable.  

 

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