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Energy efficiency jobs? The market is willing but workforce is thin

The energy efficiency workforce in the US could more than triple in the next 10 years, but only if training and educations programmes for such jobs sees a quick and serious boost.

That’s the conclusion of a new study by researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). The study finds that, at the moment, the market is willing, but the would-be workforce is thin.

“There is a shortage of formal training programs in energy efficiency, and an extremely high demand right now, thanks to the infusion of funding for energy efficiency from the growth in ratepayer-funded utility programs and federal and state budgets devoted to efficiency, for example, in programs funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” says Charles H. Goldman, a scientist in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of Berkeley Lab.

Ironically, the Berkeley study got under way in 2008 before the Recovery Act was even passed, fueling an expanded demand for energy efficiency improvements across the country.

The research report breaks down the energy efficiency services sector (EESS) into several different types of jobs:

  1. Program administrators who plan and manage energy efficiency projects and programmes;
  2. Energy efficiency consulting firms that assess facility energy use and recommend efficiency retrofits, implement energy efficiency programs, or that design homes and facilities to be energy-efficient;
  3. Construction and installation firms and tradespeople who build new, or retrofit existing, homes and buildings for energy efficiency; and
  4. Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) that develop and construct comprehensive energy efficiency projects, and monitor and verify that energy efficiency retrofits deliver energy savings.

The study does not include related occupations such as building operators, manufacturers of energy-efficient equipment, energy supply companies or the renewable energy workforce.

“The narrow focus of this study is designed to allow us to estimate the size of the workforce that provides energy efficiency services, and determine whether the education and training programmes designed to retrain existing workers and train new workers in this market segment are adequate to meet the coming demand,” Goldman said.

In a companion study that’s not yet published, the research team estimated that the energy efficiency sector workforce currently comes to about 120,000 full-time equivalent workers (or person-year equivalents). The actual number of people in the sector, however, is around 400,000, because many work only part time or spend just part of the day on energy-efficiency-related work.

Depending on the rate of growth in the energy efficiency sector, that workforce could reach anywhere from 220,000 person-year equivalents (in a low-growth scenario) to 380,000 person-year equivalents (in a high-growth scenario) by 2020, the study projected. The high-growth figure would be equal to an actual labour force of about 1.3 million people.

Standing in the way of this potential expansion, though, are three primary bottlenecks:

  • A shortage of trained, experienced energy efficiency programme managers who can provide mentoring on the job;
  • A shortage of experienced energy efficiency engineers, in part because of the lack of formal training programmes available; and
  • Limited awareness among builders, contractors and the construction trades about the energy efficiency service sector’s growth potential.

To overcome these obstacles, the research team recommends the following:

  1. Provide energy efficiency education and training targeted at building and construction trades people.
  2. Coordinate and track training efforts within states, and share best practices across states.
  3. Increase short-duration, applied training to augment on-the-job training for existing energy efficiency workers and to introduce new entrants to the field;
  4. Increase funding to “train the trainers.”
  5. Prepare the next generation of energy efficiency service sector professionals through more training centres and university programmes.

“The building and construction trades and contractors have limited awareness that the energy efficiency service sector is poised to grow significantly, and that their skills will be required as part of this growth,” said study co-author Jane S. Peters. “Not surprisingly, states that have been operating energy efficiency programmes for years, such as California, New England, Pacific Northwest, have a better training infrastructure and a larger pool of construction trades trained in implementing energy efficiency projects than states that are just beginning to pursue energy efficiency.”

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