Despite increased demand, there are several challenges hindering the growth of the energy efficiency workforce. With the baby boomer generation nearing retirement, the energy industry must find a way to replace the retiring workforce with qualified employees while prioritizing diversity and location.
The current state of the energy efficiency workforce is not indicative of the national average. Minorities make up a smaller portion of the industry and employment opportunities are severely lacking in rural areas. Workforce development remains stagnant due to several factors including lack of awareness, inadequate training, and lack of coordination with stakeholders.
The energy efficiency workforce can be categorized as those involved in the deployment of efficient technologies, building design, and retrofits; such as improving insulation, building lighting, and reducing overall energy consumption. This also includes jobs that manufacture and distribute ENERGY STAR® products, according to the National Association of State Energy Officials and the Energy Futures Initiative.
In Illinois, the largest energy efficiency sectors are traditional heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR), high efficiency HVACR, and efficient lighting. According to the United States Energy and Employment Report, the energy efficiency sector produced the highest amount of new jobs of any sector in 2018. While this has been the case for the last few years, it's been challenging to fill those jobs with the right employees. Many employers report difficulty finding candidates due to insufficient qualifications, lack of experience, and lack of technical skills.
While HVACR and construction workers are highly sought after, students are not pursuing training or careers in these industries. 60 percent of HVACR instructors report that they have the capacity to train more students, but the programs are not filling up. This demonstrates a lack of awareness of the career growth available in this industry. The industry's poor reputation and lack of awareness cause high school students to pursue different paths. Those who are aware of the opportunities in the energy industry typically have the misconception that a bachelor's degree is required for all high performing jobs. Many jobs in the energy industry do not require a four-year degree as training is done onsite.
By collaborating with stakeholders such as community-based organizations, companies, community colleges or associations, there is a great opportunity to fill the employment void, increase general awareness, and create effective training programs. Employers who collaborate with stakeholders can better equip the incoming workforce with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in this work environment. With these tactics in mind, we hope that the energy workforce can continue to grow with a more skilled and diverse workforce.