With the results of the recent presidential election and a renewed focus on rebuilding of the post-COVID economy, it’s clear now that jobs in the energy efficiency industry are poised for significant growth. That’s why it is so important to focus on the benefits of expanding diversity in the green energy workforce right now. It’s an opportunity we can’t miss.
A career in energy efficiency or renewable energy offers unique opportunities, including higher-than-average wages and potential for career advancement. But not all groups have been given equal access to the opportunities green energy jobs provide. Of the more than 2.3 million people employed in energy efficiency across the United States in 2019, approximately three-quarters were male, and nearly four in five were white.
Meanwhile, the COVID-related economic crisis has taken a major toll on energy efficiency employment numbers, with the industry losing more than 350,000—over 15%—of its existing jobs. Unemployment has hit Black and Hispanic workers and women especially hard compared to white male workers in the energy efficiency industry nationwide.
At the same time, employers are struggling to fill the energy efficiency jobs they do have, and to plan for the anticipated increase in positions as the economy recovers and clean energy is embraced again at the highest levels of government.
According to a report on diversity in the workforce from American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, “more than 91% of employers in the construction industry—the largest energy efficiency sector—indicated that it was either somewhat or very difficult to hire new employees.” Citing lack of experience, training, or technical skills, employers say finding people to fill all these new jobs is a real challenge.
I can attest to the same challenge at Franklin Energy. We routinely have open or new positions, all of which we support with on-the-job training and education. Unfortunately, we are seeing our days to fill slowly increase in 2020.
As we rebuild from the economic crisis, tapping into the potential of underrepresented populations will be key to meeting massive demand for energy efficiency products and services, including working through the backlog of projects that were sidelined by the virus. As mentioned in that same report by ACEEE, “even during times of economic hardship, the need for energy efficiency remains. In addition to saving energy, these programs deliver valuable benefits, such as lowering utility bills and making buildings healthier and more comfortable for occupants.”
Steps to improving workforce diversity
Based on ACEEE research, my own recruiting experience, and our inclusion initiatives, here’s a list of recommendations for how energy efficiency program administrators can work to diversify the workforce:
- Look at diversity among your suppliers and find opportunities for inclusive procurement.
- Ensure you are targeting the right audience with your words, associations and connections.
- Offer training to contracting firms, students, and other target segments in order to increase diversity in the pipeline of workers.
- Partner with state agencies and skills training providers.
- Identify and work to overcome the barriers faced by underrepresented communities in your footprint.
- Train workers in both energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies simultaneously.
- Keep programs small to better support participants both during and after the program.
- Create paid internships or paid training programs to make them feasible for workers who don’t have the financial resources to self-fund an internship.
- Evaluate program performance by collecting and analyzing data so you can improve as you go.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. See what resources are already in your area and connect with them. Groups in disadvantaged areas have already put a lot of work and thought into these issues, so coordinate with them and educate yourself on what resources have already been developed. For example, when our New York team needed additional help with a community-based program, we partnered with Green City Force, an organization that provides disadvantaged youths with green job skills.
Partner with workforce development organizations for the trades, as they might have resources and training that already exist in your community.
Workforce diversity is a win-win-win
Of course, the ethical and moral reasons for supporting workforce diversity are abundant. As someone responsible for achieving successful results for energy efficiency programs, I see an obvious correlation between program adoption and workforce diversity. As the ACEEE report states, “when the efficiency workforce better reflects the communities that it serves, program design and marketing also stand to benefit and improve, making efficiency accessible and relevant for more individuals.”
When a workforce is built upon diversity of age, gender, race, ethnicity and more, inclusion of thought and innovation is guaranteed to follow. And that will provide the triple win for us all: reducing carbon emissions, lowering energy usage and customer bills, and creating more meaningful jobs and stronger local economies. Once utilities and their partners fully embrace this workforce opportunity, they will be poised to thrive in an ever-changing clean energy landscape. It starts with us. Let’s all do our part.
Shoemaker, M., R. Ayala, and D. York. 2020. Expanding Opportunity through Energy Efficiency Jobs: Strategies to Ensure a More Resilient, Diverse Workforce. Washington, DC: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. www.aceee.org/research-report/u2010.