By Carmen Rhodes, FRESC Executive Director
Colorado, like several other states, has the potential to be a national leader in the production, distribution and use of clean power leading to a cleaner, more sustainable environment and access to thousands of new jobs. Prominent opinion leaders contend that to be successful in this new energy economy we must have access to a large supply of cheap labor. We Disagree. What is needed is not cheap labor, but a well trained workforce that will help us meet our sustainable energy goals with a sustainable middle class workforce. As a convener of the Colorado Apollo Alliance, FRESC is working together with our labor and environmental partners to realize this vision.
The success of the New Energy Economy depends on a supply of adequately trained, highly skilled labor. The looming labor shortage must be approached with thought to the triple bottom line - the concept that businesses in these industries are good for the environment, are profitable, and build solid family supporting middle class jobs. Building sustainable middle class jobs in the New Energy Economy won’t just happen. It is our collective responsibility, lead by our elected leaders, to create this sustainability. This can be done by identifying the workforce needs; developing job training programs to meet these needs; and, most important, to ensure that a well-trained workforce is connected with well paying jobs.
The first step to sustainability is to understand and anticipate the labor demand and where workforce shortages will cause the most stress and become a barrier to renewable energy growth. Several states have already commissioned studies to look at the job demand and potential labor supply shortages. These studies provide information that can be used to anticipate workforce training and recruitment needs and serve as a resource for the business community and research institutions to consider opportunities for expansion, growth and new entrepreneurism.
Next, we must create training programs to meet the need for a high quality workforce. Job growth in the New Energy Economy can be divided into a need for workers in two categories; college educated workers and highly skilled technical workers. Better predicting the need for a college educated workforce in these industries can help our community and state colleges build on and better perfect courses and new degrees for renewable career paths. We need to identify opportunities and develop curriculum for particular workforce training needs of technical workers in emerging industries in the renewable and energy efficient fields. While some labor unions have developed photovoltaic certification and renewable apprenticeship programs, the New Energy Economy encompasses many other diverse industries with training and apprenticeship needs. During the current economic downturn, training and apprenticeship programs for the New Energy Economy will give us the opportunity to create sustainable middle class jobs for communities most in need.
We must identify ways to link good jobs with renewable energy and energy efficient projects through incentives that reward businesses with workforce development strategies and a commitment to pay family supporting wages. Better wages will contribute to more demand from homeowners for renewable energy retrofits and installation. The greater demand will reduce the high initial cost and make renewable energy affordable to a larger number of workers and their families. We must look for more opportunities to connect public policy and investment with clean energy jobs that exist in a number of industries: public and private energy efficiency retrofits in older buildings; manufacturing of clean energy components; construction of transit oriented development and other energy efficient building standards; and generation and transmission of renewable electric power.
The private sector, public sector, labor and environmental communities must share responsibility for connecting a home grown world class workforce with the New Energy Economy. We must be thoughtful, strategic and diligent to ensure that more people benefit from the creation of good middle class jobs that are good for the environment and good for businesses. Many states have put policies in place to create sustainable energy. It is now our responsibility to have similar policies in place to create jobs for a sustainable middle class.
FRESC and the Colorado Apollo Alliance plan to hold a regional Green Jobs Summit in late Spring to explore policy and training opportunities that help build a New Energy Economy that is equitable and sustainable for all.