It’s going to take 38,100 workers to help Massachusetts transition to a clean energy state.
That’s according to a report published Wednesday by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), a quasi-public agency that supports the state’s green energy industry. The paper forecasts thousands of new jobs by 2030 in order to meet the state’s decarbonization goals. And as of now, we’re not ready to fill them.
The report classifies a worker as a “clean energy worker” if they are working in renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative transportation, or other decarbonization efforts. These jobs include electricians who install electric panels, insulation workers who help maximize the efficiency of heating and cooling systems, or construction workers who help install electric vehicle charging stations.
According to the center’s analysis, Massachusetts needs its clean energy workforce to expand by 37 percent from its current size of 104,000. However, the report also reflects the current challenges of filling those positions today. For example, 88 percent of companies that responded to MassCEC surveys said they have difficulty hiring workers for clean energy jobs.
“There are places where we need immediate intervention,” said Jennifer Applebaum, managing director of workforce development at MassCEC. “This report is to help us understand and be preventative and proactive to ensure the workforce we have is ready to execute our climate goals.”
With a national heat wave of record temperatures, the recent flooding in Vermont, and other natural disasters, the climate risk has never been so glaringly real. At the same time, Massachusetts’ clean energy workforce has grown little since 2017, according to the numbers in the report.
The pandemic had a role to play in that, wiping out one in every six clean energy jobs (about 12,800). About half of those jobs had returned by 2022. And while the state’s labor market has been strong, with low unemployment rates, the overall labor force is shrinking, which doesn’t help the need for clean energy job expansion. Workers might transition from fossil fuel industries, but jobs there are estimated to fall just 3 percent by 2030, not enough to fill clean energy needs.
However, the labor market is not the only concern. Training capacity, too, is a hurdle.
“I think the numbers are ambitious,” said Salvador Pina, dean of workforce and business development at Roxbury Community College. “It’s going to be a challenge to get that many people in the industry. I’m not sure if we have the capacity to churn out that many people a year.”
Many occupations at severe risk of facing worker shortages are also those that require extensive training, which takes time. Union-based apprenticeship programs for electricians can take as long as five years to complete. Slowing things down even further, unions already have long waitlists for apprenticeship programs, and many vocational high school programs are currently seeing more demand than they have seats available.
Technology poses another risk for these occupations. Many jobs — like cost estimators and insulation workers — have changed a lot with technology, and that change is only accelerating. It’s likely, in five years, we’ll need workers for things we haven’t even anticipated yet.
“Think about how rapidly technology is changing,” said Pina. “That means these jobs are changing just as fast.”
However, according to MassCEC members like Applebaum, changing technology doesn’t change the need for clean energy jobs.
“A lot of the occupations you see that are really climate-critical are skills trade positions,” she said. “While technology changes how those people do those jobs, it hasn’t replaced the need for them.”
A major part of the report also highlights the need for diversifying the clean energy workforce. Many of the occupations that are expected to see growth in the next seven years are heavily male-dominated. According to MassCEC, women make up only 31 percent of the clean energy workforce, and far fewer in many specialized occupations, like electricians, 98 percent of whom are male.
Minority representation in these occupations is also an issue. For example, only 7 percent of the state’s clean energy construction laborers and 11 percent of electric power line installers are Black. This is a problem for environmental justice communities — neighborhoods, often with people of color making up the majority of the population, that disproportionately burden environmental hazards — who are directly impacted by clean energy projects.
Kerry Bowie, founder and executive director of Browning the Green Space, a coalition focused on equitable clean energy advancement, said expanding the ranks of minority workers in clean energy jobs can help raise awareness and opportunity in minority communities. If clean energy jobs are on their radar, neighborhoods with lower-income families, high immigrant populations, or fewer English-speaking members will have more of a voice from clean energy workers who represent those communities.
“If you have people who speak the language the people are speaking, or have the cultural competence of doing the outreach, that matters,” he said. “We have to not do things to people, but with people.”
And the study’s authors note that 38,100 is just the number of jobs anticipated to facilitate a clean energy transition alone. It doesn’t include extreme weather task forces, climate tech outside of clean energy, or other “green jobs.”
Including those, the number of workers needed to insulate Massachusetts from other climate risks could be even bigger. And with the rapidly mutating landscape of technology, environment, and the economy, that remains more urgent than ever.