Employment Challenges and Opportunities
Despite employment contraction in 2020, growth trends for these fields of clean energy technology over the last decade have risen. Not surprisingly, employers in this sector reported difficulty finding candidates with the training, certifications, and skills needed to fill these positions. For example, 87 percent of construction employers in electric power generation reported that it was somewhat difficult or very difficult to hire new employees.10 The limited diversity of the industry’s talent pool further adds to these employment challenges. The energy sector has fewer women and people of color than the overall economy. While some areas, such as electric power generation, are more diverse than others, it is critical to foster equitable access to the economic opportunities that can result from energy infrastructure investments.
One means of diversifying the clean energy talent pool is making the industry more accessible. People with disabilities can bring a wealth of untapped talent and diverse perspectives into the clean energy sector, filling jobs ranging from solar power installers to systems engineers and market analysts. However, people with disabilities are underrepresented in the clean energy workforce. As of September 2022, approximately 33 million of the 264-million-person civilian labor force over 16 years of age has a disability.11 Employment outcomes for the two groups are quite different: the labor force participation rate for both men and women with no disability 16 to 64 years of age is more than double than for those of the same age with a disability;12 the unemployment rate for both men and women with a disability 16 to 64 years of age is more than double than for those of the same age with no disability;13 and workers with a disability are twice as likely to work part-time.14
Fortunately, the recent growth of telework may be a key factor in the rising employment of people with disabilities since the COVID-19 pandemic.15 In principle, millions more Americans could enter the job market if companies would expand their focus on full inclusion of workers with disabilities.16 For example, an apprenticeship program that is designed to be inclusive of people with disabilities can help build a more inclusive solar industry and create a diverse talent pipeline of valuable workers. Apprenticeship programs provide participants with paid “earn while you learn” training through classroom instruction and structured on-the-job training with an experienced mentor. Inclusive apprenticeship programs can take apprenticeships a step further, when specifically designed to be accessible to and inclusive of all trainee workers, including people with cognitive, neurological, physical, mental health, and sensory disabilities. In turn, recruiting and hiring these career seekers can help foster more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible workplaces.
Launching an inclusive apprenticeship program can offer a cost-effective way to help companies of all sizes diversify their workforces, reduce turnover and absenteeism, boost productivity, and more. All these factors can drive a company’s mission and yield key advantages for its bottom line.
Employers should consider exploring how apprenticeship programs can help prepare and train the future workforce by learning more about the value of inclusive apprenticeship programs and how the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship is advancing career paths in the clean energy sector.