Statewide efficiency requires a strong workforce
Minnesota’s energy efficiency future is only as strong as the local workforce available to implement it. With over half of energy efficiency jobs concentrated in the construction industry, it is critical that these skilled occupations evolve with emerging technologies and remain attractive to youth.
In Minnesota, challenges like a general workforce shortage and the anticipated “silver tsunami” of retirements in many trades threaten the clean energy economy’s ability to maintain or accelerate growth. At the same time, these challenges present opportunities to create accessible career pathways for disadvantaged populations that are often left out of economic prosperity. Additionally, evolving technologies change the skills required to work in clean energy jobs.
For these reasons, the Center for Energy and Environment launched a study to analyze trends, gaps, and opportunities to strengthen and diversify Minnesota’s energy efficiency workforce.
With funding from the McKnight Foundation, CEE staff reviewed literature and existing data on energy efficiency employment in Minnesota and interviewed 23 energy efficiency employers, six training programs, and seven state workforce representatives. Split evenly between the Twin Cities metro and rural areas, these energy efficiency employers were asked about their current and anticipated hiring needs and challenges to meet work-order demands.
All of the employers interviewed anticipated hiring within the next year and over 80 percent had experienced difficulty hiring at the time of the interview. At the same time, only one employer had even heard of Minnesota’s workforce system under the Department of Employment and Economic Development. And as one workforce representative interviewed put it, “energy efficiency career pathways are not on our radar right now.”
In response to the awareness gap revealed by the study, CEE invited workforce representatives, energy efficiency employers, and training programs together to share information and identify next steps.
At the event, former CEE employee and project lead Elena Foshay presented the results of the study. As the new director of workforce development for the City of Duluth, Elena added personal experiences to the trends and opportunities discovered in the research. Some of these include city-instituted community benefits policies to allow publicly funded projects to prioritize disadvantaged workers during bids, to further integrate energy efficiency into technical degree curriculum, and to group employers with similar hiring needs into cohorts for the workforce system.
Following Elena’s presentation, Sarah Goodspeed of Climate Generation moderated a panel of five workforce experts and stakeholders:
Jessica Miller, Workforce Strategy Consultant for Southwest and South Central Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, shared that energy efficiency hadn't been on the workforce system’s radar, but now is. Jessica also discussed how the public workforce system operates in rural Minnesota, as well as how it is working to attract new talent and re-train employees already in the field.
Maggie Witman, Associate Director of Women’s Initiatives, Dunwoody College of Technology, explained how Dunwoody is on track to meet its gender diversity goals in technical degrees by offering scholarships, supportive advisory services, and peer networks for women seeking occupations in the trades.
Mike Slezak, Career Pathways Consultant, City of Minneapolis Employment and Training Program, shared how the public workforce system operates in Minneapolis, as well as how it can help diversify businesses and best serve small- to medium-sized employers.
MJ Horner, Senior Director of Talent Strategy and Transformation, Xcel Energy, emphasized how Xcel Energy uses a combination of scholarships and internships to increase diversity among new hires as well as re-train its current employees.
Rick Martagon, Supervisor at Labor Standards and Apprenticeship Division, Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, noted that energy efficiency jobs are largely located in the construction trades — many of the registered apprenticeships result in careers that install efficient lighting, HVAC, plumbing, insulation, and more. Rick also explained what the State’s registered apprenticeship program is and how it leverages partnerships with community-based organizations to expand recruitment networks.
After the panel, attendees were asked to consider next steps going forward and how they would like to stay involved. Some of the opportunities cited:
Engaging the K-12 education system by linking the trades and benefits for the environment, removing negative bias held by principals and high school counselors about the trades/technical degrees, and offering kids shop classes and other energy efficiency curriculum opportunities
Evaluating the journeyman test to increase pass rates, especially for electricians
Bringing training opportunities to communities that have historically been left out — encouraging alternative training models that allow people to “earn while they learn” and obtain “stackable” certificates
Connecting more energy efficiency employers (especially small- and medium-sized) with resources and assistance available through Minnesota’s public workforce system, especially in rural communities
To achieve its climate-related goals, Minnesota’s energy future will include more distributed energy resources and complex energy-saving and -storage technologies that save carbon and costs when energy is expensive and dirtiest. Upgrading our energy infrastructure requires a consistent, high-quality workforce pipeline to ensure the industry has the skills and employees demanded of the task.
Continued collaboration and engagement among energy efficiency employers, the public workforce system, training programs, and policy and technical experts is the key to achieving a strong workforce pipeline that serves all Minnesotans.
Minnesota Energy Efficiency Workforce Gap Analysis
The Minnesota Energy Efficiency Potential Study – Appendix P: Analysis of Workforce Impacts of Modeled Energy Efficiency Programs
Clean Jobs Midwest – Minnesota