Finding Green Job Pathways

Where renewable occupations and technologies represent the glamour of the clean energy economy, the workaday world belongs to those helping in some direct capacity to create greater energy efficiencies. In Alaska, that translates to 4,421 workers, or 1.3% of the state’s total workforce. This is a comparatively small workforce and in terms of creating sustainable training programs (clean, green or otherwise), as training needs to be meaningfully linked to jobs that exist, not jobs we wish existed. In 2011, the Alaska State Energy Sector Partnership (ASESP) and Alaska Workforce Investment Board (AWIB) created an inventory of Alaskan green job pathways (where employers pursue environmentally sustainable practices) and a workforce development plan to fill jobs being created in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors. The ASESP inventory of University of Alaska’s green vocational career pathways totaled 77 discrete training programs, ranging from occupational certificates in welding to an Associate of Arts degree in renewable energy resources. It might come as a pleasant surprise to a welder working today on the North Slope that she is part of the ‘clean energy’ workforce. It will come as less of a surprise to a UA Mat-Su College Sustainable Energy Program holder that their Occupational Endorsement Certificate program no longer exists because it did not seem to connect to any coherent career pathway. 

Biomass boiler operators, weatherization technicians, building energy retrofit technicians, energy managers, greenhouse operators and heat pump installers are occupations that do require specialized training and skills. But these, and the majority of clean energy career pathways in Alaska, once again, do not require stand alone or the establishment of niche training programs. Instead, clean energy training has proven most effective when located within well-established training programs belonging to traditional occupations and trade apprenticeships. These ‘legacy’ or ‘core’ training programs are increasingly adopting clean energy modules when there is a defined need for the training. The scope of work and skill sets demanded of builders, plumbers, electricians, sheet metal workers and boilermakers are rapidly expanding, transforming, and in some instances, being reimagined because of a greater focus on efficiencies, clean energy technologies and best practices. Germany, a world leader in developing a clean energy workforce, has “moved past the glitz of niche renewable energy training programs and has realized that the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in the renewable energy field are largely transferable from other industries such as electrical, industrial maintenance, and engineering.” This appears to be the global trend. 

The clean energy transformation is under way. Renewable energy generation has doubled in the United States over the last 10 years and is now responsible for 17% of the nation’s power generation. Nationwide, construction firms involved in the energy efficiency sector continued to experience an increase in the number of their workers who spend at least 50% of their time on energy efficiency related work, rising from approximately 797,500 in 2015 to 1.017 million in 2016 and now to nearly 1.024 million in 2017. Alaska’s future clean energy infrastructure will be built and maintained by the same broad categories of workers who can proudly claim to have built the state’s original infrastructure. 

There are 11,901 Alaskans currently working in some capacity to maintain and heat some of the oldest building stock in the country. There are 14,859 Alaskan workers involved in raising new buildings, installing boilers, wiring and plumbing homes, insulating walls, fabricating HVAC systems, programing building controls and performing various other jobs in the construction industry. Among the 1,579 Alaskans working in power generation, there are more than a thousand managers and clerks, 460 power plant operators, 366 linemen and 47 dispatchers working for rural, Railbelt and remote Alaska utilities to keep the lights on and costs low. There are hundreds of politicians, managers, public works directors and school principals in cities, boroughs and villages across the state who are charged with energy related projects and responsibilities. Given the opportunity, these are the Alaskan workers poised to make the most substantial impact on Alaska’s clean energy economy and most will do so through a greater energy literacy and an understanding of how energy efficiency measures can best be implemented.