Navigating the Workforce Bottleneck
The workforce is the driving engine of the economy. This adage is equally true even when the engine is efficient and electric. Clean energy jobs in the fields of energy efficiency and electrification are increasing. While the U.S. workforce grew overall by 2.8% between 2020 and 2021, clean energy jobs grew 4% during the same period. However, employers are having difficulty filling these jobs because declining interest in skilled trade jobs over the past decades means there are few new workers in the fields of energy efficiency and electrification. Employers expect this picture to only get worse. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that as many as 500,000 energy industry workers would retire within five to 10 years.
Some states recognize this looming bottleneck and are taking action to advance comprehensive legislation on climate and energy policy, while simultaneously advancing workforce goals. Electrification and improving energy efficiency in buildings to reduce energy use save consumers money and advance climate goals. These upgrades and changes to buildings require a skilled workforce. The case for job growth in the energy efficiency and electrification sectors is bright due to projected exponential growth in clean energy jobs to meet demand. Many states have existing workforce development programs and are updating or changing the focus of these programs to educate the workforce in the clean energy sector. Only a handful of states, however, including Minnesota, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and Illinois, have enacted legislation to launch or expand workforce development programs that provide the skills necessary for a successful and diverse building modernization workforce.
Successful state legislation to advance workforce development programs that prepare workers and businesses to meet the growing demand for energy efficiency, electrification and clean energy building upgrades can:
- Ensure a just energy transition by increasing access to the education and training necessary for energy efficiency and building decarbonization jobs among underrepresented populations and businesses through equity-focused program outreach and curricula.
- Develop training opportunities that enable those with nontraditional educational paths to gain the skills needed to successfully participate in the workforce.
- Create programs to reach middle and high school students that allow students to get on-the-job experience in a trade at a younger age.
- Remove barriers in existing workforce development programs, such as requirements for certain educational attainment, and barriers to individuals who have a criminal conviction or some connection to the justice system.
- Provide skills-based networking and transition programs for workers and communities impacted by power plant closures. Workers affected by power plant closures may possess training and certifications not easily reflected in a job market focused on traditional degrees. State programs that focus on skills-based hiring and enabling nontraditional educational paths will be more readily able to connect displaced workers with quality jobs.
- Enable more earn-as-you-learn programs through registered apprenticeships that provide participants with on-the-job learning while they earn a paycheck.
As more states enact laws to support the energy efficiency and building electrification workforce, they can use the legislative examples in the Building Modernization Legislative Toolkit to launch task forces and plans, create clean energy jobs networks and use state and ratepayer funds to create workforce development programs. States with robust energy efficiency and building electrification workforce development programs will be well positioned to pursue over $30 million in funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for training and education needs, including activities that address current workforce gaps. States can leverage these funds for purposes such as pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships and career opportunities for on-the-job training and vocational school support. The infrastructure legislation also includes millions of dollars for energy efficiency programs, which will require a qualified workforce to deliver.