Blazing a Trail to Climate Resilience— and Great Careers

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Rebecca Foster's picture

CEO of VEIC. Working nationally at the intersection of decarbonization, innovation, and equity.

  • Member since 2021
  • 5 items added with 9,549 views
  • Sep 22, 2021

Too many Americans are looking for work. Too many American businesses are looking for workers. We can and must respond to both challenges. Clean-energy workforce development is a big part of the solution. 

Several months ago, I wrote about how the clean-energy industry is ready to supply dynamic jobs in a recovering economy. I particularly called out VEIC’s readiness to share its approach to decarbonization, whether in commercial buildings, for low- to moderate-income (LMI) households, via electrified school buses, or in expanding the green workforce.  

Recent developments in international climate science and U.S. federal policy mean now is the time for the clean-energy industry to come together to strengthen and expand the value of the nation’s changing workforce.  

Why Green Careers Are Needed, Now
In its most compelling report yet, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) laid out more scientific evidence, backing its call for urgent reductions in energy use to rapidly curb global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). Notably, the report expresses “high confidence” that the crucial index of a 2.0°C increase in global temperature is extremely unlikely to be exceeded if we rapidly lower GHG emissions. In other words, it is not too late to prevent the worst effects of climate change; but we must act now.  

The report compels organizations like VEIC, which bring clean-energy services to homes and businesses in diverse communities across the country, to step up in creative ways. It also means that we need more such organizations—many more. 

Shortly after the release of the IPCC report, the Senate passed the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is now awaiting House approval on September 27. That bill contains a provision connecting climate change mitigation to environmental justice and jobs.  

It is not a stretch to say that the health of the planet is all about jobs. We need millions of new workers to upgrade buildings, install EV charging stations, build wind farms, and install solar panels. But America’s workers need more than just short-term jobs. They need meaningful new careers that will sustain them and their families for years to come.  

How It Can Be Done: A Look at the DCSEU’s Workforce Program  
We have a chance to change the trajectory of our climate and move from increasingly severe storms, droughts, and wildfires, and unprecedented climate migration to a state of climate resilience—and perhaps even climate recovery. But to counteract decades of insufficient action, achieving such goals will require a laser focus on rapidly scaling up models that work.  

The Workforce Development Program VEIC administers as part of the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) is one such model. It began in 2015 and has since brought 127 workers directly into the green economy. It guarantees them the DC Living Wage with DCSEU partner contractors, trains them to achieve relevant building certification credentials, teaches appropriate interviewing and workplace behaviors, supports post-program job placement with contractors, and conducts post-graduation follow-up. Graduation rates are high. The contractor-employers note high employee retention. And employees perceive viable career development pathways. The program cost to bring an unemployed person into a green career? Just under $38,500. 

In fact, this model is a far more effective jobs generator than efficiency programming alone, and than the general, cross-sector “business as usual” economy alone. The DCSEU Workforce Development Program produces 26 new, direct jobs for every million dollars invested in the program. The value to the local economy counts, too. Assuming most of those jobs relate to construction, the number of direct, indirect, and induced (collectively, “total”) jobs rises to 85. Indirect jobs are those that spur the market for clean-energy products and services, and induced jobs are those related to supporting local economic development from green workers’ spending.  

In contrast, energy efficiency programming produces 20 total jobs per $1 million of investment; and the number of total non-green jobs supported all across the economy is 17. This calculation basis follows a classic analysis by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  

What if…
Scaling even a proven workforce development model like this, to the extent needed to achieve our climate goals, will take political will. Jumpstart funding needs to be in place, as do program administrators, qualified trainers, and willing partner businesses to host the newly trained employees. There is new evidence that the political will is evolving in this direction.  

Eighty-four members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate support the creation of a “Civilian Climate Corps” in the forthcoming Budget Reconciliation package. The Corps would be open to unemployed young Americans and other civilians, and offer well-paying jobs to build a diverse, career-path workforce. The plan sets goals and advocates the creation of a “central entity” that would coordinate with AmeriCorps and nonprofit, state, local, and agency partners, including other national service and public programs. It also contains performance standards that prioritize “environmental justice.”  

Think of it. In just one city in a single sector of the economy, we have addressed worker shortages and under-employment with cost-effective green career pathways involving transferrable knowledge to other careers. If other cities or sectors were to adopt this approach, with or without the support of Climate Corps funding, employers could more rapidly fill open positions, meet growing consumer demand, and jumpstart their own business recovery. This could all happen while they engage new employees in careers that are paid well enough to contribute meaningfully to supporting their families while protecting the health of our planet. That’s a vision worth putting into place.   

Ask me more at  

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 22, 2021

Love the focus on green jobs. I'm wondering what advice you might give for young people in college who want to make the green pathway their career-- what should they be studying and/or working on? 

Kimberly McKenzie-Klemm's picture
Kimberly McKenzie-Klemm on Sep 22, 2021

The top three disciplines I would recommend are Biology, Chemistry, and Engineering. On the other hand, there are many opportunities along the "green pathway" careers and I would not exclude any discipline of study from offering potential in seriously invested industrial and business endeavors to partner with conservation and innovation efforts of climate change decisions.

Rebecca Foster's picture
Thank Rebecca for the Post!
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