Clean energy brings ‘very attractive’ jobs — report

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, April 19, 2019

If the Green New Deal became law tomorrow, how would tens of millions of workers be absorbed into a new clean energy economy, and what would that labor force look like?

A new analysis from the Brookings Institution shows that clean energy job opportunities are widespread, with 320 unique occupations being created or expanded as the economy transitions from carbon-based energy supplies to renewables and energy efficiency.

Many of these jobs would come with middle- to high-income wages, yet they won’t necessarily require college degrees, Brookings found. The jobs would also be widely distributed throughout the economy, and many would allow for tearing down old institutional biases that excluded women and minorities from the workforce.

“Occupations related to the clean energy transition offer a potent antidote to the inclusion challenges of the modern American economy,” a team of Brookings experts, led by Mark Muro and Joseph Kane, wrote in the 43-page analysis, released this morning. “These are the types of professional opportunities the macroeconomy needs in a time of significant industrial transformation.”

While the analysis is not a formal census of clean energy jobs, Brookings estimates more than 6.5 million jobs exist in three major clean energy sectors: energy production, energy efficiency and environmental management. Those jobs involve “a range of workplace responsibilities,” including support service positions that are found throughout the broader economy.

The clean energy workforce also includes jobs at nearly every rung of the employment ladder — from apprentice electricians to wind turbine and solar panel technicians to nuclear power plant operators.

“It kind of covers the waterfront,” said Muro, a senior fellow and policy director for Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program. “These are en masse a very attractive group of jobs, including some well-paying positions that require lower education levels. Also, in general, these are not only good jobs, but they are accessible jobs.”

While a college degree is not required for many clean energy jobs, the analysis found employment does require some level of scientific knowledge or technical skills. Consequently, it said, the sector needs to establish more worker training programs, either on the job or through partnerships with educational institutions, such as community or technical colleges.

Brookings also found that workers in clean energy jobs earn higher and more equitable wages when compared with all workers nationally. Mean hourly wages exceed national averages by 8% to 19%, while workers at lower ends of the income spectrum can earn $5 to $10 more per hour than other jobs.

But the analysis said clean energy employers could do a better job marketing themselves and their employment prospects to young people, as well as women and minorities, who account for a disproportionately low percentage of all sector workers.

“The clean energy economy workforce is older, dominated by male workers, and lacks racial diversity when compared to all occupations nationally,” the report said. For example, less than 20% of workers in clean energy production and energy efficiency are women, while black workers fill less than 10% of these sectors’ jobs.

Some of these challenges can be addressed as new jobs and new occupations come to fruition, but it may also require cultural changes within labor unions and trade organizations that have in the past have been overrepresented by white men. Schools also have a role in making sure young people are aware of job opportunities in clean energy fields.

“Clearly there’s going to be a need for federal and state policy to emerge to do some of this work,” Muro said. “But a lot of this will be determined at the regional and local level. That’s where the connections are going to be made.”