Diversifying the Clean Energy Workforce

By Alistair Pim, VP of Innovation & Partnerships, NECEC

Recent studies have shown that the clean energy industry has a long way to go to increase diversity within its workforce. According to a 2019 report from the Brookings Institute, the clean energy economy workforce is predominantly older, male, and lacks racial and gender diversity when compared to all occupations nationally. The same report found that only 20% of the clean energy production and energy efficiency jobs in the United States are occupied by women, and less than 10% are occupied by Black workers. Today’s high-performance buildings place new skill and knowledge demands on facility managers, building operators, engineers, equipment installers, and other onsite technicians. Skill deficiencies among these professionals can prevent high-performance buildings from delivering on their promise, adversely impacting their energy savings, indoor environmental quality, cost effectiveness, and long-term viability

Earlier this month, NECEC board member Greg King, Managing Director of TSK Energy Solutions LLC, led a discussion with members of NECEC’s Strategic Partner Network (SPN) on ways to expand diversity in the clean energy and cleantech workforce. SPN is a membership network for global corporations focused on building relationships across the Northeast cleantech ecosystem. Through SPN, NECEC helps leading corporations form partnerships within our startup community and clean energy member companies to advance their energy and cleantech business strategies. 

As a board member at Roxbury Community College in Boston, Greg has been instrumental in creating the Center for Smart Building Technology  which aims to prepare the diverse workforce needed to implement the sustainable, high-performance and energy efficient smart building practices required to achieve Boston’s 2050 carbon neutral goals. With the help of two SPN members, National Grid and Eversource, the Center has launched a certificate program to increase the number and diversity of skilled clean energy workers we need to keep our buildings operating at peak efficiency. The program teaches students about Building Automation Systems (BAS) and the equipment the BAS system controls, which includes heat pumps, chillers, boilers and air handling equipment, etc., The program provides students with hands-on experience in the setup and maintenance of critical commercial building infrastructure.

We know that to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we’re going to need to tackle the problem from every angle, including by addressing emissions from commercial, industrial, and residential buildings. Building emissions currently contribute close to 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to invest in energy efficiency programs - and the workforce needed to implement them - in order to reduce that stark percentage. With this program at the Center for Smart Building Technology off the ground, Greg is seeking additional support from the industry and other stakeholders to fund and expand this important workforce development initiative. .

Looking more broadly, Greg said he sees community colleges across Massachusetts launching similar courses for other cleantech sectors, such as offshore wind, low-carbon fuels like hydrogen, and clean transportation, and believes there is an opportunity to unify the approach and leverage common modules for efficiency in course development and public-private support. 

In support of this work, Greg has been campaigning for the creation of an Office of Clean Energy Equity in a pending climate bill in Massachusetts. This Office of Clean Energy Equity would be funded with a budget to support women- and minority-owned businesses, as well as Environmental Justice communities and workers displaced by electrification. Part of this campaign is to identify and recruit new members to an advisory board that could determine the best ways to use state funding to scale up this type of workforce development effort.

The discussion with our SPN members resulted in enthusiastic support for this program in Massachusetts and encouraging ideas about how we can join forces with other states such as Connecticut, which has a strong energy efficiency policy framework, to expand workforce development and workforce diversification efforts across the region.

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Alistair Pim

Alistair Pim is NECEC's Vice President, Innovation & Partnerships.