The clean economy workforce in the U.S. and proposals to make it more inclusive

brookingsclean-energy-jobs_wages Figure2-finalAdvancing inclusion through clean energy jobs  is a report  released  by the Brookings Institution in April 2019,  with a goal to determine “ the degree to which the clean energy economy provides labor market opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups, with a particular focus on equity”.  It examines a range of occupations, not just the traditionally-identified “green jobs”,  identifying approximately 320 unique occupations in three major industrial sectors: clean energy production, energy efficiency, and environmental management.  The report includes detailed discussion of its methodology and data sources, and emphasizes the size of the clean energy economy and its potential to make an impact on the equity of the U.S. labour market.

Some highlights about the “nature” and “ quality” of clean energy economy jobs:

  • Workers in clean energy earn higher and more equitable wages when compared to all workers nationally. Mean hourly wages exceed national averages by 8 to 19 percent.
  • Roughly 50 percent of workers in the clean energy economy have a high school diploma yet earn higher wages than similarly-educated peers in other industries – for example, plumbers, electricians, and carpenters.
  • Some occupations within the clean energy production and energy efficiency sectors require greater scientific knowledge and technical skills than the average American job.
  • The clean energy economy workforce is older, dominated by male workers, and lacks racial diversity when compared to all occupations nationally. Fewer than 20 percent of workers in the clean energy production and energy efficiency sectors are women, while black workers fill less than ten percent of these sector’s jobs.

In the accompanying press release , first author Mark Muro states: “Clean energy occupations are varied, accessible to workers without a bachelor’s degree, and good paying, but they are not yet as inclusive as they should be. To deliver on the sectors’ full promise for economic inclusion, more work needs to be done in front-line communities to ensure under-represented communities and women are more widely included.”  The report concludes with  proposals directed at state and local policy makers, education and training sector leaders, and community organizations.  Broadly, the policy proposals include: “modernizing and emphasizing energy science curricula, improving the alignment of education and training offerings, and reaching underrepresented workers and students.”

Women and minorities still at a disadvantage in U.S. solar industry

solar industry 2019 diversity infographicThe U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study 2019  was released by The Solar Foundation ,  in partnership with the Solar Energy Industries Association on May 6, reflecting  a growing  industry awareness of the need to promote inclusion. The 2019 study is based on survey responses from 377 employers and 398 employees in the winter of 2018, and reports on  job satisfaction, career paths and progression, and wages.

Some highlights: 

  • Among the senior executives reported in the survey, 88% are white and 80% are men.
  • Three of the top five recruitment methods rely on professional and personal networks – putting minority applicants at a disadvantage to be hired  (Only 28% of Hispanic , Latino, and African American  respondents reported that they found their jobs through a referral or by word of mouth, compared to 44% of white respondents).
  • There is a 26% gender wage gap across all position levels. 37% of men earn in the range of $31 to $74 per hour, compared to only 28% of women.  The median wage reported for men was $29.19, and for women it was only $21.62.

The full report is available here (registration required). This is the second Diversity Report, but the first, in 2017, is no longer available online. An accompanying  Best Practices Guide  is a brief guide aimed at HR managers to encourage diversity and inclusion programs.  A summary  of the report appears in Think Progress .

Other reports which confirm the need for more diversity in the solar industry: 

Solar Empowers Some  (February 2019)  focused on the state of diversity and inclusion in Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Advancing inclusion through clean energy jobs  (April 2019)  by the Brookings Institution goes beyond just the solar industry to include all clean energy and energy efficiency occupations. It reports that fewer than 20 percent of workers are women, and less than 10 percent are black, confirming that the clean energy economy workforce is older, dominated by male workers, and lacks racial diversity compared to all occupations nationally.  This report, importantly, also documents skills and educational requirements, and is written in the context of labour market issues for a transition to a clean economy.

We have little comparable research in Canada. As reported in the WCR  previously,  Bipasha Baruah at Western University in London researches the gender issue in the renewable energy industry, and in 2016 presented a report,  Creating and Optimizing Employment Opportunities for Women in the Clean Energy Sector in Canada, at Imagining Canada’s Future, an SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Symposium at the University of Calgary.

Growth and diversity in the U.S.clean energy industry

Two new reports foresee employment growth in the U.S. renewable energy industry – despite the chilling effect of the tariffs on solar equipment imposed  by the Trump administration, as described in a Solar Energy Industry Association press release in December.   The first study, Clean Energy sweeps across rural America  (November 2018) by the Natural Resources Defence Council examines job growth in wind, solar, and energy efficiency in rural regions throughout the Midwest U.S., and finds that the number of clean energy jobs grew by 6 percent from 2015 to 2016 (a higher rate than the economic in general), to a total of  nearly 160,000 in 2017.  In 2017, in the rural parts of every midwestern state except North Dakota and Kansas, more people worked in clean energy than in the entire fossil fuel industry.  The report emphasizes the outsized impact of job opportunities in rural areas in which job growth is normally negligible or even negative. The report also profiles examples of  community solar programs operated by co-ops and investor-owned utilities.

A second report  models the impact of  replacing Colorado’s coal plants with a mix of wind and solar backed by battery storage and natural gas.  This report was prepared by consultants Vibrant Clean Energy and commissioned by energy developer Community Energy Inc., with a main focus on cost savings and carbon emissions.  However, it also forecasts job impacts under three scenarios (keeping coal plants to 2040, gradually retiring coal plants, and retiring all coal plants in 2025), and overall,  it forecasts a 52% increase in employment in the electricity industry.

The January 9 press release  quotes a representative from Community Energy Inc:  “The key to unlocking these benefits is to create a legal framework that enables utilities to voluntarily retire the coal plants. Otherwise, it could take years to negotiate or litigate utility cost recovery, replacement power costs and impact on local communities.” The full Coal Plant Retirement study is here .

Finally, the Solar Energy Industries Association issued a press release in early December, highlighting its 2018 initiatives to improve gender equity and diversity – including the creation of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative, which includes summits to increase women’s leadership and various industry opportunities.  In September 2018,  the SEIA signed a Memorandum of Understanding  to help the solar industry recruit and employ more students from the 101 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  This will include hosting a national jobs fair, individual jobs fairs at the HBCU schools and bringing solar companies to campuses for recruitment.   A webinar series on diversity and inclusion is scheduled for SEIA member companies in 2019.

How to increase women`s representation in green industries

women in trainingTwo  new reports were released in May in the Smart Prosperity Clean Economy Working Paper Series.  Identifying Promising Policies and Practices for Promoting Gender Equity in Global Green Employment by Bipasha Baruah, synthesizes and analyses existing literature  on women’s  employment in manufacturing, construction and transportation –  “brown” sectors which are important in the transition to a green economy. From the paper: “The literature points to four overarching barriers that exist for women who seek to enter and remain in these fields: lack of information and awareness about employment in these sectors, gender bias and gender stereotyping, masculinist work culture and working conditions, and violence against women. … Most policies designed to address women’s underrepresentation in these fields tend to be reactive responses that do not engage adequately with broader societal structures and institutions that produce and maintain inequality. Improving lighting in construction sites in order to prevent sexual assaults against women and requiring women to work in pairs instead of alone are classic examples of reactive policies that end up reinforcing social hierarchies rather than challenging them… …. Raising broader societal awareness about the benefits of gender equity, and about women’s equal entitlement to employment in all fields, is as crucial as policy reforms and state or corporate actions that protect women’s interests and facilitate their agency. “ The discussion includes interesting observations about women’s challenges  in engineering professions and in apprenticeships.

The second paper, also by Bipasha Baruah, is  Creating and Optimizing Employment Opportunities for Women in the Clean Energy Sector in Canada .  This paper has been released previously and was highlighted in April 2018 in the Work and Climate Change Report, along with  Women and Climate Change Impacts and Action in Canada: Feminist, Indigenous and Intersectional Perspectives , published by Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces in Canada`, the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women and the Alliance for Intergenerational Resilience. Both reports note the underrepresentation of women in the clean energy industry and call for improvements in workforce training and hiring; the working paper by Bipasha Baruah emphasizes the need for change in societal attitudes.

The publisher, Smart Prosperity is  based at the University of Ottawa, and announced major new funding at the end of  March 2018 , which will enable new research in a “Greening Growth Partnership” initiative.  Click here for information about the funding and the international experts who will be participating in Smart Prosperity research.

Gender equity practices needed in the Canada’s renewable energy sector

A new report argues that Canada’s renewable energy and aligned “climate prosperity” initiatives are perpetuating employment and income inequities for women in Canada, and calls for the renewable energy sector–a major area of action on climate change–to incorporate gender equity practices in workforce training, hiring, and management.  Women and Climate Change Impacts and Action in Canada: Feminist, Indigenous and Intersectional Perspectives  states that in countries such as Canada, United States, Spain, Germany, and Italy, women hold only 20-25% of jobs in the sector, and the vast majority of these jobs are lower paid, non-technical, administrative and public relations positions.   Further, while women  face social-economic barriers that leave them bearing the brunt of climate change impacts, they are  denied a role in developing policies and programs to mitigate climate change.  Women and Climate Change Impacts and Action in Canada makes a unique contribution in examining the roles and knowledge of  Indigenous women, and calls for solidarity across women’s groups to advance the paradigm shifts necessary to achieve gender mainstreaming and climate justice in Canada.   The report was produced in collaboration between the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women and the Alliance for Intergenerational Resilience, with financial support from Work in a Warming World (W3) Project, partnered with Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change Project (ACW). A summary of the findings is at the ACW website; the full report is archived in the ACW Digital Library here.

More on this topic:  Creating and Optimizing Employment Opportunities for Women in the Clean Energy Sector in Canada  (2016) is an informal  working paper/knowledge synthesis by Bipasha Baruah, Canada Research Chair in Global Women’s Issues at Western University.  She states that “The conversation about gender equity or social justice (more broadly) in Canada’s green economy is at best incipient and tokenistic” , and calls for specific employment equity policies as well as a shift in societal attitudes. The article documents the same underrepresentation of women in the renewable energy industry, and argues that Canada lags other OECD countries in data collection and analysis, and policy initiatives.  “Renewable inequity? Women ’s employment in clean energy in industrialized, emerging and developing economies” is a more formal article by Baruah which appeared in Natural Resources Forum (2017).  The 2017 volume  Climate Change and Gender in Rich Countries: Work, Public Policy and Action, edited by Marjorie Griffin Cohen, offers a still broader look at the issue of gender and climate change.