The move to a cleaner economy is essential, but the workers who are currently employed in the not-so-green economy can’t be left behind. A transition to clean energy requires a strategy to up-skill and shift both talent and the communities that depend on them into the future state. Here’s how you can plan for this transition and how it will impact current energy production employees.

Understanding the shift – how are energy jobs changing?

Over the last century, fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas, have dominated the energy market. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs across the United States tied directly and indirectly to those fuel sources. To just cancel them all is a nonstarter. A transition is needed, and a thoughtful one at that.

We are already experiencing the shift. In the last decade, the US has seen a 40% decline in coal-fired power generation, one of the most significant uses of coal. And coal mining has been in decline well before the last decade. Over 100,000 coal jobs have been lost since the mid-1980s. The impacts of the global pandemic have also been felt in the energy sector. The trend of job displacement that was already underway due to the shifting economics of coal and increased automation saw a spike as over a dozen coal-fired plants were forced to shut down within the span of a year.

The declining costs of renewable energy have been the main driver in coal’s decline. Over the last decade, wind energy prices have fallen 70%, and solar photovoltaics have fallen 89% on average. In 2019, US renewable energy consumption surpassed coal for the first time in over 130 years. Renewable energy was one of the nation’s strongest sectors prior to the pandemic, adding jobs 70% faster than the overall economy. As renewable energy becomes even more competitive and policymakers increase efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, jobs in the clean energy sector will continue to expand.

Understanding the Broader Impact

Unfortunately, many coal regions have been suffering from chronic job loss and other hardships during this time of transition. These regions provide relevant examples of what could happen to other fossil fuel-reliant communities without action. When a coal plant or mine closes, it creates a ripple effect beyond workers to entire communities, including families, teachers, local business owners, health care facilities, and more. A strategic transition is needed to help workers, and the communities that depend on them shift their focus from one economic resource to another.

Helping Workers and Communities Make the Transition

Policymakers need to ensure that all workers and communities can thrive in a clean economy with good-paying jobs and reliable benefits. To fully support fossil fuel workers and communities facing transition, policymakers should consider the full scope of impact, including potential losses to families and surrounding businesses and counties.

But until that happens, employers and professionals in the business should share their knowledge of what this transition means for the market. Workers should be enabled to seek out reskilling opportunities. They bring experience and expertise in the industry to their jobs day to day that is relevant in a broad range of roles. Whether they need the training to remain relevant in a clean energy economy, or if going back to school is the only way forward, that information should be communicated and supported by the companies they work for.

If you are an energy professional looking for new opportunities in the face of a rapidly evolving energy market, connect with the team at ESGI today.

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