The Energy Efficiency Workforce:
The driving force of clean energy employment

two men working at a computer with wind turbine model next to them

Read this resource if you are a workforce development specialist, an employer in the energy efficiency field or a career seeker learning how clean energy jobs help improve access to the workforce for people with disabilities. The Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (PIA) advances full inclusion and access to jobs in the talent pipeline for clean energy through its work with agencies, intermediary partners, employers and other key stakeholders. Apprenticeship programs, related workforce learning programs and other programs for workforce development can drive the pipeline of diverse, untapped talented workers to fill a growing number of clean energy jobs.

Energy Efficiency Overview

With more than 2.1 million workers and growing, the energy efficiency (EE) sector represents the largest source of employment in the clean energy economy, adding nearly 58,000 jobs in 2021.[1] The EE sector includes a wide range of roles that support work to produce and install products that increase energy efficiency and deliver services that can reduce energy consumption by residential, commercial, and industrial end-users. EE jobs support work to design and install building insulation, enhance natural and artificial lighting, and adopt equipment to reduce energy consumption in residential and commercial spaces through the U.S. A substantial portion of employment in EE also propels the manufacture of products that can meet requireme006Ets from the federally managed ENERGY STAR program for efficient appliances.

Demographic characteristics of the EE workforce distinguish it from the overall national economy of the U.S. The workforce rate of workers with a disability (3%) is lower than the national average (4%),[2] whereas the rate of veterans in EE (8%) is higher than the national average (6%).[3] Veterans working in this sector self-report disabilities at higher rates than the general population.[4] It seems possible that the disclosure of disabilities and employer data may likely under-represent the true level of disability within the EE workforce. For example, the EE portion of returning citizens (people who were formerly incarcerated), a population group with a higher rate of disability than the general population[5], is lower than the national average (1% compared with 2%, respectively).

The workforce participation rates for Hispanic, Black, and Asian Americans in EE are also all lower than their respective national averages. Data from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) shows that many of those groups have lower rates of employment when compared with white Americans in the national workforce when they have a disability[6]. Making employment in EE more accessible for people with disabilities offers one possible path to attracting more diverse talented workers to the industry. This growing sector, like many across clean energy, offers a crucial opportunity to help improve access to employment for people with disabilities.

The Energy Efficiency Workforce Opportunity

One means of driving efforts to diversify the EE talent pool involves enhancing accessibility and fostering support for access needs in the industry. Approximately 26% of adults in the U.S. have a disability[7], but only 29.1% of people with disabilities aged 16-64 are employed.[8] People with disabilities can bring a wealth of untapped talent and diverse perspectives into the clean energy sector.

They can fill jobs ranging from solar power installers to systems engineers and market analysts. In fact, 10.7 million more Americans could enter the job market if companies would expand their focus on full inclusion of workers with disabilities. An apprenticeship program that is designed to be inclusive of people with disabilities can fuel a diverse talent pipeline of valued workers and help build a more inclusive solar industry.

Apprenticeship programs can provide their trainee workers with paid “earn while you learn” training through in-classroom instruction and structured on-the-job training with an experienced mentor. Inclusive apprenticeship programs can help take apprenticeships a step further. By design, these programs drive access and inclusion for all trainee workers, including people who have cognitive, neurological, physical, mental health and sensory disabilities. In turn, recruiting and hiring these career seekers can bolster performance at businesses while also helping to foster more diverse, equitable, inclusive and accessible workplaces.

Launching an inclusive apprenticeship program can offer a low-cost way to help companies of all sizes diversify their workforces, boost productivity, reduce turnover and absenteeism, enhance their brand images and more. All these factors can drive a company’s mission and yield key advantages for its bottom line. Employers should thus consider exploring how apprenticeship programs can help prepare and train the future workforce by learning more about the value of inclusive apprenticeship programs They should also examine how PIA advances career paths in the clean energy sector.

The value of inclusive apprenticeship

Creating an inclusive apprenticeship program can represent a low-cost way to build a diverse pipeline of solar workers. “The Value of Inclusive Apprenticeships,” a recently published resource from PIA, summarizes the crucial advantages that these programs can bring to companies (Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, 2021), including:

  • Significant return on investment: In 2020, the average Registered Apprenticeship program yielded a 170% return on investment for employers in North Carolina.[9] Companies that embraced best practices for employing and supporting diverse workers with disabilities in their workforce achieved 28% higher revenue, doubled their net income, and attained 30% higher profit margins on average[10].
  • Lower turnover and reduced training costs: The vast majority of apprentices (89%) maintained their positions, helping their businesses achieve a strong three-year retention rate[11]. At four Walgreens locations, the three-year average turnover rate was 48% higher for team members without a disability when compared to team members with a disability, saving on recruiting and training costs[12].
  • A wider talent pool: As noted earlier, only 29.1% of working-age adults with a disability are employed, compared with 70% of working-age adults without a disability. Nearly 11 million Americans could enter the labor force and pursue jobs, including through apprenticeships, if more businesses can seek to foster the full inclusion of workers with disabilities.

A path forward: Steps to creating an inclusive apprenticeship program

For those companies with an interest in launching inclusive apprenticeship programs, these five steps can help employers of al sizes kick start the process and meet their goals to become more diverse, inclusive, equitable and accessible businesses:

  • Step 1: Explore
    Interested companies can explore how apprenticeship programs can help prepare and train the future workforce by learning more about the value of inclusive apprenticeship programs and how PIA and its partners advance career paths in the clean energy sector.[13]
  • Step 2: Build
    Interested companies can learn how to create an apprenticeship program or partner with an existing apprenticeship program.[14] Many states also offer funding sources that can aid businesses in developing programs, providing financial support to expand the solar workforce, fostering apprenticeship training, and supporting full work access for job seekers with disabilities. Employers can pursue several tax incentives and grant programs. Learn more about funding an apprenticeship program.[15]
  • Step 3: Partner
    Interested companies can consider forming new partnerships to help create or enhance inclusive programs, which may include partnering with industry partners, such as apprenticeship intermediaries.[16] These intermediaries can connect apprentices and employers to help launch, grow and maintain apprenticeship programs. Intermediaries often include these types of businesses and programs run by them: industry associations, chambers of commerce, community and technical colleges, community-based organizations, labor-management partnerships and workforce development boards.
  • Step 4: Register
    Interested companies can find out how to register an apprenticeship program by connecting with DOL or their state’s apprenticeship agency.[17]
  • Step 5: Launch
    Interested companies can begin an apprenticeship program by recruiting and hiring talented career seekers[18] while ensuring these programs can meet their accessibility goals. They should consult PIA’s resource on Designing Inclusive Apprenticeships: A Guide for Recruiting & Training Apprentices with Disabilities.[19]

[1] See: U.S. Energy and Employment Report 2022

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] U.S. Census Bureau, 2022

[5] U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2021

[6] See: U.S. Department of Labor

[7] See: U.S. Centers for Disease Control

[8] See: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

[9] See: ApprenticeshipNC

[10] See: Accenture

[11] See: U.S. Department of Labor

[12] See: American Society of Safety Professionals

[13] See: https://inclusiveapprenticeship.org/the-value-of-inclusive-apprenticeships/

[14] See: https://www.apprenticeship.gov/employers/registered-apprenticeship-program/build

[15] See: https://inclusiveapprenticeship.org/the-value-of-inclusive-apprenticeships/#3

[16] See: https://www.apprenticeship.gov/employers/registered-apprenticeship-program/build

[17] See: https://www.apprenticeship.gov/employers/registered-apprenticeship-program/register

[18] See: https://www.apprenticeship.gov/employers/registered-apprenticeship-program/launch

[19] See: https://inclusiveapprenticeship.org/guide/