Clean energy is hot: how industry employers can find the best people in a growing and competitive job market

By Eden Higgins

Sunny optimism about the expansion of a clean-energy U.S. economy is gathering steam, as the Biden Administration commits to creating 10 million green jobs to help address climate change and consumer demand for it swells.

Rapid employment growth is expected through 2026 in many eco-friendly jobs, according to projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For example, the need for wind turbine service technicians is predicted to grow by 96%, second only to installers of solar photovoltaic systems (105%), the BLS reports.

That raises an urgent question: How will employers in the renewable-energy industry find the most qualified candidates?

The green job market is growing

 Those who work in the industry feel the excitement, with new companies, products, services and opportunities.

Currently, the U.S. employs nearly 3.4 million workers in everything from manufacturing all-electric vehicles and modernizing the power grid to building solar farms and maintaining wind turbines. The numbers come from Clean Jobs America 2020, which noted that at the start of last year, the sector grew for the fifth straight year since the annual report was first released in 2015.

California remained the nation’s undisputed leader in clean-energy jobs through 2019, but states as diverse in size and structure as Texas and Massachusetts also are in the top 10 for these jobs.

The Brookings Institution’s April 2019 report, “Advancing inclusion through clean energy jobs,” predicts that the transition to a clean-energy economy primarily will involve 320 unique occupations in three industrial sectors: clean-energy production, energy efficiency and environmental management. Jobs in all three offer “substantial wage premiums,” with the average wage in each exceeding the national average of $23.86 by at least $2 per hour, including hourly wage premiums of nearly $5 in clean-energy production.

While Brookings reports that many occupations in the clean-energy economy have lower educational requirements and more on-the-job training, careers specifically in clean-energy production and energy efficiency often require greater scientific knowledge and technical skills as well.

Filling green jobs can be tricky

With more than 13 years of experience in recruiting for the renewable energy sector, I can tell you that finding qualified candidates is extremely difficult.  Hiring leaders confirm this sentiment. So does research from the Energy Futures Initiative and National Association of State Energy Officials. The challenge is that many candidates interested in joining the industry lack experience, training,  technical knowledge, skills and certifications. Even when qualified candidates meet the job requirements, they may lack the “soft skills” and culture fit necessary for the particular company. 

New employment opportunities are coming and many are already here. So new employment opportunities are coming and many are already here. In fact, some specific roles within the renewable energy space will grow by 60% through 2029, and the positions will pay more than the median annual wage in the United States, according to BLS data. In a highly competitive market, how can hiring leaders find the best and brightest people to help accelerate our nation’s move into a green world?

 In a highly competitive market, how can hiring leaders find the best and brightest people to help accelerate our nation’s move into a green world?

A common denominator among our renewable-energy clients is the desire to hire individuals passionate about sustainability. Employers want qualified candidates with the truly green mindset of “This isn’t just about a job, but being able to help the planet.”

Often, the challenge is recruiting candidates who have both — the required skill sets (especially in a booming market) and a zeal for the global mission. Hiring an individual with only one or the other can be like finding a full stack developer without the whole stack.

Unearthing the best green-job contenders

Finding the best people also takes an approach that is targeted, thoughtful and thorough. This is particularly important in a candidate-driven market where talented people who are happy in their current role are receiving multiple calls from multiple recruiters about multiple opportunities daily.

In some instances, hiring leaders will try to take matters into their own hands, weeding through LinkedIn profiles and sifting through hundreds of resumes hoping to find the perfect, interested candidate. Keep in mind they are doing this in addition to tackling their corporate responsibilities and managing their growing departments.

At my company, we connect renewable energy firms to top talent using our five-step process called recruitment research. Part detective and part sales, recruitment research starts by taking stock of the company – its mission, values and points of difference – and ends with a comprehensive report containing market intelligence data, vetted candidates and a full list of prospects for consideration in future searches.

A good example of how recruitment research works is our work with REC Solar, now Duke Energy. The company approached our team to help fill 20 key positions in a short period of time. We did this by targeting regional and national competitors. Not only were we able to find exceptional candidates in an average of 15 days, but we also provide the company with data to understand the competitive landscape. Our partnership with the company, now known as Duke Renewable Energy, has continued for over three years.

The sky’s the limit on green jobs

Up and down the renewable-energy food chain, workers are needed — scientists in research and development, engineers and software developers in smart grid, energy production and storage, construction and maintenance workers in plant and solar/wind farm operations, finance, sales and marketing wizards in product commercialization, and many others.

All types of people with all types of knowledge and skills, from swinging hammers in the construction of solar farms and climbing ladders in the maintenance of wind turbines to building widgets and creating systems for their sales, will be required.

The time is right, given the Biden administration’s ambitious climate-change platform, which includes rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, investing $2 trillion in clean energy, and fully decarbonizing the power sector by 2035 to achieve a larger goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

How will you position your company to play a leading role in these exciting times?

About the Author

Eden Higgins is vice president and Alternative/Renewable Energy practice group leader at Duffy Group, Inc., which sources and recruits candidates in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Europe, and Asia.

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Source: Renewable Energy