The energy efficiency sector has a high demand for workers--especially in the HVAC technician and construction industries--yet few young people are pursuing training or careers in these industries. Among construction and trade programs, there is limited awareness of energy efficiency jobs, training programs, and skillsets (Goldman et al., 2010).

Findings from EGIA's 2018 study, "Bridging the HVAC Employment Gap" found lack of awareness and poor reputation to be the main reasons for recruitment challenges. According to the study, only 3% of students and 23% of parents were familiar or extremely familiar with HVAC work, and while the majority of parents responded that a career in HVAC would make them proud, 51% of parents would like to see their children attend a four year institution. With the perception that trade programs are only suitable for low-performing students, parents tend to steer their children away from this path because of the misconception that a bachelor's degree is required for all high performing jobs (NCCER, 2018).

There is also a lack of awareness about the benefits of apprenticeship and trade school programs, which train a substantial portion of the energy efficiency workforce. Academic community colleges and university programs often have bigger budgets and the bandwidth to reach out to high school students. Trade school and apprenticeship programs that prepare students for energy efficiency careers get "out hustled, out maneuvered, out sold, and out financed every day by two and four-year colleges and universities" (Gargaro, 2019). Thus, many young people become aware of the benefits of trade program offerings and apprenticeship programs only after pursuing another higher education path.

Solutions

To raise awareness of energy efficiency careers and training programs and to recruit more young people to the profession, the following strategies may be helpful:

  • Promote energy and energy efficiency literacy. The National Energy Foundation (NEF) argues that to attract students to energy careers, we must increase energy literacy. Among other energy topics, NEF educates students about energy efficiency attitudes and behaviors as an introduction to potential energy efficiency careers (NEF, 2019).
  • Help students explore career options. Students need earlier discussions of career path options, as well as future job predictions (NCCER, 2018). This may include highlighting the benefits of an energy efficiency career, and sharing stories about how these careers have helped people thrive (Lennox, n.d.). Young people need to understand how their skills and interests align with energy efficiency careers, and they need resources that provide them with accessible information about energy efficiency career pathways.
  • Engage in K-12 outreach. Energy efficiency employers, such as utilities, should commit to K-12 outreach. These programs are effective when they 1) partner with organizations that already work in schools, 2) send professionals (especially diverse professionals) to engage with students, and 3) provide hands-on experiences. Examples of K-12 outreach include guest speakers, curriculum development, science bowls, class projects, job shadowing, and even high school internships.

Successful Programs

Two nonprofit organizations in Chicago, the Illinois Green Alliance and City Incite, together execute the Youth Energy Efficiency Ambassador program, a summer initiative that raises awareness about energy efficiency and energy efficiency careers and trains young people on the city's South and West sides to do their own community outreach (Thill, 2019). The summer 2019 session "included classroom training, an energy efficiency career panel, green home tours, and a trip to ComEd's Chicago smart grid education center" 9bid). The program, which is modeled after the Illinois Green Alliance's adult Energy Efficiency Ambassadors group, gives participants ample opportunity to learn from real professionals and provides access to a professional network. The Youth Energy Efficiency Ambassador initiative empowers participants to educate families, neighbors, and other residents in their own communities.

The Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) raises awareness about energy industry career opportunities through a comprehensive web portal for high school students and others. Their "Get into Energy" website features information about necessary training, job benefits and interactive career pathways for the most in-need positions, and offers resources for different demographics, such as youth, women, engineers, military, and transitioning workers. Many of the resources highlight existing organizations and networks that focus on diverse groups in energy and how to connect. The portal provides general information on STEM programming and how to apply for available scholarships. It lists energy industry positions across the U.S. and Canada.

Pittsburgh's International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 5 relies on minority and diversity recruiting specialists who have forged careers as people of color within the craft industries to raise awareness about energy professions. These recruiters speak to the experience and motivation derived from working with their hands and earning a living that can support their families. Moreover, they underline the available tuition-free union training opportunities. The message of gaining skills without immense debt can go a long way toward meeting employer needs and diversifying the workforce.

References

Electric and Gas Industries Association (EGIA) (2018). "Bridging the HVAC Employment Gap by Generating Tomorrow's Workforce Today." Retrieved from https://egiafoundation.org/report
Gargaro. (2019). Solutions for the HVAC Workforce Problem: Industry leaders recommend paths for contractors. Archnews.com. https://www.achrnews.com/articles/141768-solutions-for-the-hvac-workfor…Goldman, C. A. (2010). Energy Efficiency Services Sector: Workforce Education and Training Needs (pp. 1–73). University of California Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/94j234gj

Lennox. (n.d.). Bridging the Skills Gap Infographic (Lennox). Retrieved October 18, 2019, from http://view.ceros.com/orange-tap/lennox 

National Energy Foundation (2019). About NEF. https://nef1.org/about-nef/ 

NCCER. (2018, July). Restoring the Dignity of Work_Report. National Center for Construction Eduction and Research. Construction Industry Institute. https://www.nccer.org/news-research/research 

Thill (2019). Chicago nonprofits train South Side youth as energy efficiency 'ambassadors.' Energy News Network. https://energynews.us/2019/10/01/midwest/chicago-nonprofits-train-south-side-youth-as-energy-efficiency-ambassadors/