Wind Energy Goals Can’t Be Met Without Addressing Workforce Gap
The wind industry has trouble finding qualified workers, and qualified workers can’t find employment opportunities.
Renewable energy accounts for about 20 percent of electricity production in the United States. Wind energy is about 10 percent of the total electric power generated, and wind power capacity increases by about 30 percent per year. There are utility-scale wind power facilities in 41 states, and the wind industry has created more than 100,000 jobs in the United States.
The NREL has identified a wind energy workforce gap. Image used courtesy of Werner Slocum, NREL
Wind Energy Workforce Gap
There is, however, a wind energy workforce gap that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) first identified in a 2019 study. The gap refers to problems that the wind industry has experienced in hiring qualified workers and the problem that workers have in finding wind industry jobs. As a result, wind energy employers are unable to fill entry-level jobs, while recent graduates and other qualified workers find it difficult to find these employment opportunities.
For 2022, the NREL has released two new reports to further examine the wind power workforce gap and to suggest ways of closing it. Defining the Wind Energy Workforce Gap documents challenges facing the industry, the potential workforce, and educational institutions and training programs. In Defining Wind Energy Experience, research was conducted through an analysis of wind job requirements, gathering insights into company practices, the difficulty in finding relevant entry-level positions, and the types of career pathways that exist within the wind industry.
A wind turbine worker. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock
For their studies, three wind-energy occupations that represent uniquely different sectors of the wind industry were chosen for review—environmental scientist, power systems engineer, and welder. By examining these three employment opportunities presented by the wind industry, practices could be suggested to help connect workers and jobs.
The key takeaways from the studies include:
Internship and graduate programs for power system engineers and environmental scientists can provide on-the-job work experience
Clear job descriptions should use terms like “entry-level” or “junior” to make it easier for applicants to identify jobs they might be interested in or qualified for
Applicants should be able to submit resumes and applications to a central location that also allows them to track their status
Relevant coursework in colleges and trade schools should be incorporated into the curriculum to allow a potential workforce to acquire practical and useful knowledge
Power systems engineers and welders experience higher position turnover rate than environmental scientists, so consideration should be given to what causes these trends
Some workers, like welders, can work in multiple sectors of the wind industry, and their skills are largely transferable, making their retention even more valuable
Students and recent graduates often have difficulty finding employment opportunities close to where they live or want to live
The reasons for the wind energy workforce gap include experience, geography, and practical hands-on training
A worker atop a wind turbine. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock
Meeting Wind Energy Goals
The U.S. goal of a 100 percent carbon-free electric grid by 2035 requires a rapid escalation of wind energy to replace power generation based on fossil fuels. This required rapid growth will only be possible if the wind energy workforce gap can be closed, allowing the wind energy workforce to keep pace with industry growth. These two NREL studies provide a starting point to connect the wind industry to qualified workers to move the nation to a carbon-free energy future.