Even as we enter into “Sequestration,” with devastating reductions in workforce and education programs, there has been much talk of a “skills gap” in the U.S. This line of argument suggests that there are not enough workers with the right skills to do the jobs we need to remain economically competitive, and that this gap may appear soon and quite dramatically in energy sectors, particularly electric utilities. Without descending into the weeds of economists’ debates on structural unemployment, it is reasonable to suggest that skill delivery systems in this country are not working well for workers or employers. While the answer may lie less in improving worker skills than improving job quality, it is clear that a greater investment in training and education is required.
We do not currently have a workforce with adequate skills — particularly at the associate and journey level — to build an economy based on renewables, energy efficiency, and smart transportation. I would suggest that we also may not have a workforce with the skills to participate in a robust discussion of what that energy future should look like. In a recent report on the state of the greening economy, my colleagues and I argue that beyond STEM skills (or even basic math and reading, the lack of which currently prevents some 90 million adults in this country from advancing in the labor market), workers and students need some kind of experience or training in democratic practice. Only then can we re-enter some sort of reasonable social discourse on the necessarily shared solutions to climate change and inequality, two tremendous challenges that can be met in part through smart energy policy.
After years of writing about the nature of jobs and training in the clean energy economy, we must now think more broadly and systematically about building resilient systems, capable of responding holistically to a new reality dominated by uncertainty – in climate change, in politics, in labor markets.
Do you agree that a skills deficit could undermine a diverse, lower-carbon, energy future? What sorts of policies could more effectively advance the skills of energy workers across the value chain, from research to operations? How can we best broaden the discussion of, and input to, energy policy in the U.S.?