Apr 18, 2019

Green energy jobs are better-paid but lack diversity

Adapted from Brookings; Chart: Axios Visuals

Employment in low-carbon energy fields is better-paid than average jobs and is widely available to workers without college degrees, a new Brookings Institution analysis shows.

But, but, but: These sectors — clean energy production, efficiency, and environmental management — are "dominated" by men, skew older, and some lack racial diversity, the study finds.

Why it matters: The report provides a highly granular look at the workforce characteristics in fast-growing, low-carbon energy sectors that already employ several million people combined.

  • It arrives amid the political rise of the Green New Deal — a concept that marries huge investments in clean energy with a goal of ensuring that marginalized communities share the benefits.

Here are a few top-line findings:

  • The wage difference is real. Check out the chart above. "The hourly differences between a clean energy economy occupation and one elsewhere in the economy can equate to a raise between 8 and 19 percent, if not more," the study states.
  • You often don't need advanced degrees. "Workers with no more than a high school diploma fill over half of all energy efficiency occupations, while 45 percent of workers in clean energy production occupations share this distinction."
  • Inclusion is a problem. As of 2016, less than 20% of workers in clean energy production and efficiency were women. African Americans have a smaller share of jobs in those 2 sectors than in the overall economy, although it's above the national average in environmental management.

What's next: The report lays out recommendations — some built on what's already happening — for how to make these industries more inclusive, train younger people, and generally help policymakers, educational institutions and businesses prepare the workforce. These include...

  • "Modernizing and emphasizing" energy science curricula at all schooling levels, such as programs now available for 2-year associates' degrees in efficiency and renewables.
  • Regional initiatives and public-private collaboration on job training and aligning education with local clean energy industries.
  • Expanded efforts to reach underrepresented workers and students for recruitment and training. For instance, they cite the tech-focused Black Girls Code program as a model.

The bottom line: “This is a very accessible blue/green collar sector in many respects — widely distributed in both red and blue places, accessible to an inordinate number of people who don’t have a college degree, and a genuine opportunity for all kinds of workers,” co-author Mark Muro said.

  • But Muro, an expert in industrial transitions, also told Axios: “We won’t just naturally get a more diverse clean energy workforce. It is going to require active effort.”

Go deeper: Renewable energy is on the rise, but it has a long way to go

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