Interdepartmental Report on Energy Employment Shows Continued Job Growth, Lack of Skilled Labor

In January, the Department of Energy (DOE) released its second annual “U.S. Energy and Employment Report” (USEER). Unsurprisingly, it finds that jobs in energy continued to grow at a healthy pace (some experts are saying energy is the new internet), but the study also reveals the skilled labor shortage affects energy-efficiency, transmission, distribution, storage, and infrastructure projects, with a significant number of respondents claiming difficulty in hiring qualified personnel.

According to the USEER, approximately 6.4 million Americans work in the traditional energy and energy-efficiency sectors. Compared with the first report last year, that is an increase of almost 5 percent. These sectors added more than 300,000 jobs, and the report finds these new jobs accounted for about 14 percent of the 2,242,000 total jobs created in the country during 2016.

The USEER analyzes four sectors of the U.S. economy: electric power generation and fuels; transmission, distribution and storage; energy efficiency; and motor vehicles. (We omit results for motor vehicles here. See the full report for details.)

More than 1.9 million workers are employed in electric power generation and fuels technologies. A majority (55 percent, or 1.1 million) of these employees work in fossil fuels, including traditional coal, oil, and gas. Meanwhile, almost 800,000 workers were employed in sustainable or green technologies, including renewables, nuclear, and advanced/low emission natural gas.

Breaking it down further in electric power generation specifically (removing workers strictly in fuels), of these green technologies, almost 374,000 people worked for solar firms. It is the largest single share of workers in any one sector. By comparison, the largest portion of employment by any fossil fuels category was coal, oil, and natural gas combined at about 187,000 workers.

An additional 102,000 U.S. workers were employed at wind firms. The solar workforce increased by 25 percent in 2016, and wind employment increased by 32 percent. These categories experienced the largest percentage of growth by far.

The report also identifies about 2.3 million jobs in transmission, distribution and storage, the most relevant category to ECs. Approximately 830,000 people work in utilities and construction. U.S. energy infrastructure added over 65,000 jobs in utility and construction companies, as the country invested in hardening the nation’s energy infrastructure and building new transmission and distribution lines. In total, according to the report, 31.5 percent of respondents in this sector stated that grid modernization or other utility-funded modernization projects comprise a majority of their revenue sources.

As for energy efficiency, a growing opportunity market for ECs, the USEER shows that 2.2 million Americans work in the design, installation and manufacture of energy efficiency products and services. From the first report, this is an increase of 133,000 jobs. The report states that almost 1.4 million of these jobs are in construction. It’s also worth noting that the firms involved in energy efficiency experienced an increase in the percentage of their workers who spend at least half of their time on energy efficiency work, rising from 65 percent in 2015 to 74 percent in 2016.

According to the report, respondents expect another 5 percent average growth in energy-related jobs in 2017. Respondents in energy efficiency, specifically, are the most optimistic, projecting a 9 percent growth.

The report also includes some demographics with regard to women and minorities, and the report finds these industries are less diverse compared with the general national workforce. The percentage of women working in these industries is about half of the national average. Hispanic and African Americans make up 14 and 8 percent of the workforce, respectively.

On another note, veterans comprise 10 percent of this industry’s workforce, which is higher than the national average of 7 percent.

The USEER is a product of cooperation between the DOE, Department of Labor, and Department of Commerce.

Despite all of the growth, respondents to the survey indicated it was hard to find workers. About three-quarters of those surveyed stated they experienced difficulty in hiring, and about one-third of those respondents reported that it was very difficult to find help. These statistics reaffirm that, in the energy industry as well as the construction industry, there is a lack of skilled labor.

Read the full report here.

About the Author

Timothy Johnson

Editor—Digital

Timothy Johnson is the former digital editor for ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR magazine.

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