DEP Report Finds Clean Energy Workforce Development Will Boost Job Creation

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HARRISBURG, PA — A new report released this week by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) shows tremendous potential for clean energy workforce development opportunities that can bolster Pennsylvania’s economy.

The clean energy industry has been a growing source of jobs in Pennsylvania for several years prior, and the COVID-19 pandemic has created a backlog of clean energy projects, resulting in a need for more skilled workers to fulfill project demands. The 2021 Pennsylvania Clean Energy Industry Workforce Development Needs Assessment and Gap Analysis Report identifies how to best support continued job growth in the state’s clean energy technology sectors.

“As Pennsylvania focuses on economic recovery and growth, the clean energy sector will undoubtedly help move Pennsylvania forward because this area is rife with opportunities for employees and employers alike,’’ said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “This demand is only going to keep growing, and it will need a strong workforce. This report provides recommendations to support clean energy workforce development.”

For the purposes of the report, the industry is comprised of five major technology sectors—energy efficiency, clean energy generation, alternative transportation, clean grid and storage, and clean fuels—as well as various sub-sectors within each such as solar, wind, efficient lighting, hydropower, smart grid, electric vehicles, and biomass fuels.

Over the last five years, these occupations grew by a collective 6 percent. Pennsylvania is a manufacturing hub for wind, hydro turbine, and ENERGY STAR products, which means the state is well-poised to supply nationwide demand for clean energy goods and services, possibly requiring the need for more skilled assemblers and fabricators and other manufacturing positions. The ramping up of clean energy generation and energy efficiency measures indicates a need for construction and installation workers such as HVAC mechanics, electricians, and solar photovoltaic installers.

“This report provides hard data to what we’ve been hearing anecdotally – that clean energy offers jobs with family-sustaining wages and long-term growth,” said Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry Acting Secretary Jennifer Berrier. “We will be continuing to work with our Local Workforce Development Boards and PA CareerLink locations to evaluate training opportunities and ensure this important industry has the workers needed to grow and succeed.”

Nearly all surveyed workers expect to advance, either within their current company or at another company in the same industry. In fact, 78 percent of current workers expect to be promoted within their current company, while 17 percent of respondents expect to advance at another company in the same industry. Less than one percent of current workers indicated that they expect to remain in their current positions but move to another industry or field.

“The commonwealth’s clean energy industry presents us with a wide array of opportunities, from creating jobs to improving the quality of life in our communities,” said Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin. “We are one of the largest solar employers in the nation, and almost one-fifth of electricity sold comes from approved renewable or alternative sources. It is critical that we continue to invest in the businesses and technologies that provide clean, reliable, and efficient energy to Pennsylvanians.”

Despite this outlook, the report still revealed the industry also had recruiting challenges.  In general, prior to COVID-19, employers reported hiring difficulties related to a small applicant pool, lack of experience, and competition with other industries. The employer survey found that 84 percent of businesses had some level of hiring difficulty before the onset of COVID-19. Most commonly, employers indicated that hiring difficulties were related to having a small pool of applicants to select from; just over a third of employers indicated that this contributed to their difficulty in finding qualified candidates to fill open positions. About a third of employers also reported that candidates lack the work experience needed for the job and another two in 10 employers cited job competition with other industries.

Understanding the barriers and opportunities within the clean energy industry, the report identifies the partnerships and programs to effectively train and prepare the Pennsylvania workforce to meet the needs of clean energy businesses in the state.

Recommendations include:

  • Facilitate on-the-job training opportunities and hands-on industry experience for workers. Relevant work experience is considered important by both employers and current workers, yet difficult to obtain.
  • Support curriculum sharing and procurement. Developing curriculums from scratch is a lengthy and expensive process.
  • Create a pipeline for displaced workers to transition into the clean energy workforce. Individuals most negatively impacted by COVID-19, including hospitality, retail, and food service workers, may need more assistance navigating the educational and experience requirements of the clean energy workforce.
  • Promote manufacturer-specific certifications for clean energy technologies. These would include air-source heat pumps or high-efficiency heating and cooling technologies and could be integrated into existing training programs as an additional component or module.

Additional key findings of the report include importance of on-the-job training for workers, strong competition for skilled positions like electricians, and that many employers expect to have at least as many workers as they had at the beginning of the pandemic.

DEP commissioned BW Research Partnership to produce the report. Data in the report is compiled from a variety of sources, including the 2020 United States Energy and Employment Report, the 2020 Pennsylvania Clean Energy Employment Report, two surveys administered to both clean energy employers and workers in Pennsylvania, and executive interviews with clean energy businesses in the state. Survey data was collected between August 27, 2020, through November 2, 2020.

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