Want to make an impact by working in sustainability? Are you considering a range of sectors, from policy to renewable energy, from resource management to construction?
…construction, I hear you say? Yes, construction. It doesn’t spring to most people’s minds when thinking of sustainability, true. But when you start reflecting on all the energy used in heating, cooling, lighting and so on, you realize that there’s a lot of efficiency and sustainability work to be done in the construction sector.
Similarly, other sectors (such as automotive) are not immediately obvious candidates for sustainability jobs. To help you evaluate employment opportunities in obvious and not-so-obvious sustainability job sectors, we’ve had a look at the US Energy and Employment Report (2018). This report considers the four main sectors of the Energy industry in the US. We’ve highlighted the main areas of employment and the kinds of skills employers are looking for in each. A special thanks to our friends at the National Association of State Energy Officials, E2, E4TheFuture, and the many others who put together this important US Energy and Employment Report, summarized below.
Sector 1: Electric power generation and Fuels.
Even though fossil fuels still produce over three-quarters of the US’s electric energy, the renewable energy sector is growing. It still has a bit of catching up to do in order to compete with traditional energy generation rivals, such as gas and coal – but it shows promising growth.
The main growth areas are wind and combined heat-and-power (CHP).
The largest areas of employment in power generation are installation and repair (32%), administrative (22%) and management/ professional (18.7%).
Over two-thirds of employers report difficulty in seeking suitable workers. Specifically, engineers are the most difficult-to-hire-for occupation for professional and business services employers. Two-thirds of utilities seek qualified electricians and operations/ business development staff.
The main barriers to recruitment are the lack of experience, training or technical skills, followed by insufficient non-technical skills.
The fastest-growing new sources of energy (albeit from a low base) are bioenergy and CHP generation, growing by 4000 and 9000 workers respectively (up 55% and 51% in 2017).
Bioenergy: Corn ethanol fuels make up 3% of the US fuels workforce (in agriculture, manufacturing and wholesale
trade). Woody biomass fuels and cellulosic biofuels also make up 3% of the US fuels workforce, or approximately 31,000 jobs, mainly in agriculture and professional services. Other ethanol, non-woody biomass fuels (including biodiesel) make up 2% of the US fuels workforce, mainly in the professional and business services (including R&D) and wholesale trade. Other biofuels, including those in early stage R&D (algal biofuel, syngas, bioheat blends, landfill gas, and advanced biofuels) employ approximately 18,400 workers in the energy generation sector, mainly in the professional service area (engineering, research, finance).
Employment in combined heat and power (CHP) is mostly professional service workers, with over 27,200 workers.
Bioenergy/ biomass energy generation and biofuels employed approximately 116,000 workers in 2017, mainly in the construction and professional services areas.
Hydroelectric power generation employs the majority of its workers in traditional hydroelectric generation technologies, while a small percentage (17%, or around 11,500 workers) is employed in low-impact hydro generating technologies.
Jobs in Solar fell by approximately 6% in 2017, mainly due to the slow-down in the residential solar market. However, solar project development grew in 2017, signaling a shift from the residential to non-residential solar photo-voltaic electricity generation. Commercial or utility-scale projects make up nearly half of the solar electricity generation market.
Sector 2: Energy transmission, distribution and storage. This sector employs 2.3 million workers (and growing) across the US. In terms of sustainability, there are two main areas to consider: a). Grid modernization (to reduce energy loss and increase the efficiency of transmission), which involves many of the utilities and construction companies in this sector; and b). Battery storage, which is particularly relevant with the growth of renewable energy production. The unpredictability of some types of renewable energy generation (e.g. wind) drives the requirement for energy storage facilities to sustain energy provision and transmission through production peaks and troughs. Energy storage grew strongly, adding 6000 new jobs in 2017.
A third of the employees in this sector are in installation or repair roles; 24% in administrative positions 16% in management positions, and 12.5% in production/manufacturing roles.
Professional and business services employers are amongst those reporting the most difficulty hiring. Half of them seek managers, directors or supervisors, or engineers.
The main barriers to recruitment are the lack of experience, training or technical skills, followed by insufficient qualifications, certifications or education.
Sector 3. Energy Efficiency relates to the production of energy-saving products and the provision of services that reduce end-use energy consumption. It cuts across subsets of many traditional businesses, such as construction, appliance manufacturing, building materials, lighting, and other energy-saving goods and services.
Within construction firms, the number of employees spending half or more of their time on energy-efficiency related work continues to grow, to 1.024 million in 2017. This includes workers involved in building design and contracting services that provide insulation, improve natural lighting, and reduce overall energy consumption. This increase signals a specialization of workers in energy efficiency jobs.
Jobs in the energy efficiency area include professional services, the manufacturing of energy efficient products and building materials, and trade. A quarter of the energy efficiency workforce works with ENERGY STAR appliances. Another quarter works with heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). Other categories are advanced and recycled building materials and energy-efficiency lighting.
Professionally, a third of workers in this sector are involved in installation or repair; 16% in production or manufacturing; 14% are management/ professionals.
Employers indicate that lack of experience, training or technical skills are the main reasons for their difficulty in finding qualified applicants. Across the sector, employers seek technicians, engineers, sales and service representatives, and electricians.
Sector 4. Motor vehicles employ over 2.46 million workers, but only 10% or so work in alternative fuel vehicles (hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles), i.e. 219,611 jobs in 2017. The area with most job growth is that of all-electric vehicles.
Even ‘traditional’ technologies are being scrutinised to increase their efficiency: 26% of jobs in the motor vehicle sector focus on increasing fuel economy or transitioning to alternative fuels.
Suppliers in this sector increasingly provide parts contributing to more fuel-efficient vehicles. Over half (59%) of parts suppliers attribute all their revenue to component parts that increase fuel efficiency.
Manufacturing firms have difficulty finding qualified applicants, mainly due to insufficient qualifications, certifications and education; and lack of experience, training or technical skills. Technicians, engineers and consultants are sought after across the sector.
… so what does all this mean for you?
1. The Energy sector has many, varied, and growing sustainability employment opportunities. These range from more traditional roles, such as electrician and engineer, to innovative ones in R&D, parts and processes re-engineering, etc.
2. Whilst the sector is less diverse than the national average, and women are slightly under-represented compared to the national average, most employers (70%) reported difficulty hiring qualified workers: many opportunities are available, if you have the suitable skills set (and, in some cases, if you are geographically mobile).
3. Depending on what you’re looking for and what your skill set is, you might find that by upskilling, specializing, re-certifying, or through lateral transitioning (say, moving for managing Oil & Gas projects to Solar ones), your dream sustainability job is waiting for you.