Advocates in Vermont hope a new clean energy jobs board and resume bank can help open doors and diversify a sometimes clubby, male-dominated sector.
Renewable Energy Vermont’s clean energy resume bank, launched last month, lets employers post job listings and review resumes uploaded by job seekers. The goal is to help companies fill positions as they rebound from the pandemic, and also share opportunities with underrepresented groups, particularly women.
Demand for workers in areas such as energy efficiency contracting, solar panel installation and electric vehicle development was growing before the pandemic, and those jobs began inching back toward pre-COVID levels last year after dropping in the first months of the pandemic. On top of that, states like Vermont are making serious investments in these sectors, meaning demand for workers will likely increase.
In addition to helping companies and workers rebound from pandemic disruptions, the jobs site aims to “encourage folks who might not have thought of this type of work before to think about joining the climate economy,” said Olivia Campbell Andersen, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont.
“We also saw it as a tool to help break down barriers and improve diversity in the clean energy sector,” she added. Companies often hire for new positions from within rather than seeking outside candidates, which makes it tougher for them to diversify, Campbell Andersen said. In addition to women, the resume bank could be a resource for Vermont’s large immigrant population.
Nationally, employer surveys show the energy workforce is more diverse than the U.S. workforce as a whole, but women are greatly underrepresented, filling less than a third of positions in solar, wind, efficiency, and other sectors.
Renewable Energy Vermont is working with its members and other partners to promote the jobs site in hopes of making sure companies see a diverse array of candidates.
“It’s great because not all women who want to get into the industry know where to go and where to look and which employers to get in touch with,” said Missy Mackin, a program manager at Vermont Works for Women. The organization provides job training and other career services for women and gender nonconforming individuals. “For us to share out the information about this resume bank is a great step forward,” Mackin said.
Training is still key
Job boards like the one that Renewable Energy Vermont has launched will be important to connect newly qualified workers with jobs, said Bob Keefe, executive director of E2, an environmental advocacy group that tracks clean energy workforce trends. But their impact will be limited without more investment in training workers who don’t yet have the skills needed.
“Employers are looking for workers, but most importantly they’re looking for qualified workers,” Keefe said.
Nearly 307,000 clean energy jobs were lost in the country last year due to the pandemic, leaving the total number of Americans working in fields such as solar development and energy efficiency at about 3 million, according to E2’s latest clean jobs report.
Vermont lost 8.4% of its clean energy jobs last year, the report found. Nationally, 9.1% of clean energy jobs disappeared.
Still, E2’s data showed that these jobs made up more than 5% of Vermont’s total workforce last year, one of the highest percentages in the country. Nationally, 2.2% of the United States’ jobs are in clean energy, the report said.
Since employment began ticking back up in the second half of 2020, many employers have had a hard time filling positions, Keefe said.
“We need to do a better job in this country of, first of all, making sure people from every part of the country … and every walk of life know about the availability of jobs in clean energy,” he said. “And second of all, we need to give them some training to get into this work.”
National training programs will be important, he said. The Biden administration recently announced a $30 million investment to support organizations such as unions, trade associations and educational institutions that help train people to construct high-performance buildings.
Advocates in Vermont recognize training is an important piece to bring people into the clean energy space. Renewable Energy Vermont’s resume bank is the first phase in a larger workforce diversity and development initiative, Campbell Andersen said.
Mackin, at Vermont Works for Women, has been running a training program for two and a half years to prepare women to work in the trades. In addition to core construction and electrical skills training, the Trailblazers program offers sessions that introduce participants to clean energy concepts. For example, Mackin said, participants in the past had the chance to see a truck used for solar panel installations and to view the panels themselves.
She said the relationships the organization develops with local businesses are important. Those companies are often open to bringing on new workers with limited experience and giving them on-the-job training, she said.
A posting on the clean energy jobs board notes that Vermont Adult Learning is seeking a project coordinator to head up a new program that will train people to work in weatherization, solar installation and heat pump installation.
The position happened to open just as the jobs board went live, said Chrispin White, the organization’s regional director in Rutland County. Vermont Adult Learning specializes in helping adults obtain literacy skills and earn their GEDs and high school diplomas.
Now, leaders at the organization want to give their clients more opportunities to get high-paying jobs in their communities. The new program, which White hopes to launch this month, will serve as a stepping stone for participants to get training that leads to employment with local businesses doing weatherization, solar and heat pump work. And the program coordinator will be key to getting it off the ground.
“Our hope,” White said, “is we are able to get a number of qualified candidates from the job board that will allow us to hire somebody and will really help us get this program up and running.”