As the demand for climate-friendly energy solutions rises, the need for skilled green energy workers is higher than ever. From electricians to civil engineers to heating and cooling experts, the trades have long offered some of the most stable career paths around, and can be good for the planet, too.
According to a report published by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), worldwide employment in the renewable energy sector reached 12.7 million in 2021. Despite the lingering effects of COVID-19 and the growing nonrenewable energy crisis, nearly 700,000 new jobs were created in just 12 months.
If you’ve been looking for a meaningful career in climate, look no further than the green energy sector. There are more opportunities than ever to build your skill set into one that will create greener — and cleaner — energy systems for all.
Energy is one of the leading causes of our climate concerns but is also the key to solving them. Much of the greenhouse gases that envelop the Earth — trapping the sun’s heat and slowly warming our planet — are generated through human energy production. Fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas are nonrenewable sources of energy, taking thousands of years to regenerate. Despite this, they’re the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for more than 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of carbon dioxide emissions.
The burning of these fuel sources has effectively caused an energy crisis — we’re using up our limited fuel resources faster than we can recreate them, and contributing to the global greenhouse effect in the process. Climate scientists around the world agree that to avoid irreversible climate damage, emissions must be reduced by almost half by 2030, and we should aim to reach net-zero by 2050.
Thankfully, there’s an alternative that offers the best of both worlds — renewable energy. In recent years, we’ve made major strides in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels to power the world around us and have instead invested in alternative sources of energy that are cleaner, more affordable, more sustainable, and most importantly, renewable.
Renewable energy can be found all around us, and doesn’t require thousands of years of recharge time. The sun, wind, water, and geothermal heat of the earth are naturally occurring and emit much fewer pollutants into our atmosphere. Although our society is still heavily reliant on using increasingly more extractive measures to seek out fossil fuels, clean energy is quickly gaining ground — as are the number of jobs needed to harvest and maintain these natural sources of power.
While the transition towards net-zero emissions means that some fossil fuel industry jobs will become obsolete, the overall increase in jobs is net-positive. The International Energy Agency estimates that about 5 million jobs in fossil fuel production could be lost by 2030, but an estimated 14 million new jobs will be created in clean energy, resulting in an overall gain of around 9 million new roles, in addition to even more opportunities in energy-related industries like manufacturing electric vehicles or in low-emission, energy-efficient appliances.
Although the upfront cost of the energy transition can be steep for countries with limited resources, investments in renewable energy could save the world trillions of dollars already just in reducing pollution and climate impacts. Creating more efficient and reliable technologies will also pave the way towards a more resilient economy and energy grid.
As the green energy sector develops, technical skills like installing, maintaining, and upgrading renewable energy systems and infrastructure are becoming increasingly valuable. The combination of baby boomers reaching retirement age and more people pursuing four-year degrees means that there’s a huge skill gap in the trades that’s left unaccounted for. Some accounts report that there are nearly 500,000 more jobs available in the skilled trades than workers with the skills to fill those roles, and as green energy continues to be more efficient and affordable, that number will only grow.
Many of these jobs are not only stable but often unionized, with starting salaries higher than jobs associated with traditional college degrees and comprehensive benefits. The good news is you won’t have to repay student loans for the next decade of your career to get the technical skills you need — many of these jobs are accessible through an apprenticeship or two-year vocational degrees. Not to mention, building your expertise in a technical trade is a worthy investment for other reasons — this skilled work is safe from the advances in automation and artificial intelligence.
Some governments, like the U.S., have created an “earn while you learn” model to incentivize young people to join the green energy workforce in areas like line maintenance, electricianship, power-line distribution, gas mains, water treatment, and operating substations. Registered apprenticeship programs (RAPs) combine mentorship, on-the-job training, and classroom instruction to build a robust and diverse energy workforce whilst creating new opportunities for marginalized groups who may not have had the means to obtain four-year degrees.
The future is bright for those looking to enter the renewable energy trades. Looking to jump-start your own career in green energy? Consider some of the following in-demand roles!