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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Shortage of skilled workers complicates Green Energy jobs picture

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Photo by Will Collette
Renewable-energy and energy-efficiency job growth slowed in Rhode Island last year, but employers expect stronger growth this year and in the years ahead because of the expansion of offshore wind, according to a new report.

The 2019 Rhode Island Clean Energy Industry Report shows the state added 155 jobs, or about a 1 percent increase in the so-called “clean-energy sector.” 

The jobs consist of workers who spend part or all of their hours on renewable-energy and energy-efficiency projects, efficient heating and cooling systems, and reduced-carbon transportation.

Job growth is down from a 3.6 percent increase in 2017 and well off the 40 percent increase the sector had in 2015. The state Office of Energy Resources (OER) expects a jump of about 900 new jobs this year and more in the future, with the launch of offshore wind projects such as the 400-megawatt Revolution Wind

But the total of 16,021 jobs in the sector makes it unlikely Gov. Gina Raimondo will reach her goal of 20,000 “clean-tech” jobs by 2020.

The report noted that the 1 percent jobs increase is still nearly 50 percent higher than the 0.6 percent job growth for all of Rode Island last year. 

It also shows that workers are spending more of their time, or labor intensity, on green-energy work, which proves demand is increasing for their services. For example, the number of workers who spent more than 50 percent of their time on energy efficiency work increased 10.5 percent last year.

Jobs in the renewable-energy sector fell about 3 percent, shedding 62 jobs in 2018. The state’s solar sector had a 5 percent decrease in employment. 

The report, which uses data from the 2019 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, said the Rhode Island job losses follow a national trend. Globally, however, renewable-energy jobs are up 7 percent, according to a study by the International Renewable Energy Agency.

The local slowdown is partly attributed to the difficulty Rhode Island employers are having finding qualified workers. In all, 80 percent of employers say it’s very or somewhat difficult to find competent candidates, an increase of 40 percent from the previous year.

The most challenging jobs to fill in Rhode Island are technicians/mechanical support, electricians/construction laborers, and sales, marketing and customer service workers, according to the OER report.

Job categories in Rhode Island’s clean-tech sector.

Wind energy seems to show the greatest promise going forward, according to the report. Ten new jobs in wind energy were added in Rhode Island in 2018.

In addition to jobs created by Providence-based ├śrsted U.S. Offshore Wind, formerly Deepwater Wind, new companies are moving in to partake in the anticipated growth of wind facilities off the coast of southern New England. 

The wind maintenance company GEV Wind Power, based in the United Kingdom, recently announced it will hire 125 or so employees when it opens its U.S. headquarters in North Kingstown.

Jobs by sector

Energy-efficiency jobs account for the largest portion of Rhode Island’s green-energy jobs, with nearly 9,400 workers, or 59 percent of the industry. Renewable heating and cooling accounts for 27 percent. Renewable energy accounts for 13 percent and green transportation accounts for 2 percent of jobs in Rhode Island’s clean-tech energy sector.

Green-energy wages can top out as high as $69 an hour, but the report noted that workers face challenges such as obtaining a number of licenses and certificates to gain employment in the sector.

“Therefore, it is important to note the importance of growing, well-paying jobs that do not require college, the pathways are often as long and complex — if not more so — than obtaining a four-year degree,” according to the 27-page report.

The solution, the report said, is more vocational trainings, expansions of pre-apprenticeship programs, and making sure training programs reach the correct demographics.

The data in the report is based on a survey of more than 3,500 calls and responses from more than 100 businesses. The report was produced BW Research Partnership based in Carlsbad, Calif.