Programmes to prepare workers for clean energy transitions can build on lessons from existing schemes, new IEA report says

The accelerated rollout of clean energy technologies needed to reach climate goals depends on building up a skilled workforce – and studying different labour training programmes around the world can provide valuable insights for countries and communities undertaking their own clean energy transitions, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency.

The report is being launched at the Global Clean Energy Action Forum (GCEAF) in Pittsburgh, USA to inform discussions and advance the work of the Clean Energy Ministerial’s (CEM) Empowering People Initiative: Skills and Inclusivity for a Just Clean Energy Transition.

The report reviews more than 150 case studies from over 50 countries, illustrating how best to overcome a broad range of challenges and create successful employment policies. The analysed schemes cover the reskilling of coal workers; the retraining of workers in the oil and gas sector and the auto industry; academic and corporate programmes; and targeted skills programmes for youth, women and marginalised communities.

Among the lessons learned from successful programmes is the importance of comprehensive workforce mapping to foresee what type of skills and workers will be needed and where, as well as the need for collaborative approaches between government, industry and workers. In some cases, community-based efforts are effective if they are designed to leverage distinct local circumstances while in other cases more widespread training is needed for specific functions in clean energy sectors such as hydrogen and energy efficiency.

As highlighted by the recent IEA World Energy Employment report, clean energy already accounts for half of global energy employment, a share that will continue to grow rapidly as clean energy transitions accelerate worldwide. Energy is a major contributor to jobs globally, accounting for about 2% of the world’s workforce, with much higher percentages in many regions. As increased deployment of clean energy technologies further boosts job creation, both current and future workers will need to be equipped with the requisite expertise to maximise benefits from this growth and to avoid bottlenecks caused by skills and labour shortages.

In many cases, it will be necessary to develop completely new programmes for education, certification and vocational training, the new skills report finds. In other cases, upskilling or reskilling of the existing workforce will be essential. Targeted programmes are needed to ensure that the new energy workforce is more inclusive than the energy sector of today, which lags the rest of the economy in female employment.

“A critical component of people-centred energy transitions will be to create new high-quality jobs while at the same time reskilling and training the world’s existing energy workforce,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, who is launching the report today at the GCEAF in Pittsburgh. “This collaborative report by the IEA and the CEM’s Empowering People Initiative advances our work on people-centred transitions by offering real-world examples and lessons from programmes around the world that seek to prepare workers to meet the energy workforce demands of tomorrow. I am especially grateful to the co-leads of the Empowering People Initiative – Canada, the United States and the European Commission – for supporting this important work.”

“No two energy systems are the same; therefore, clean energy transitions will occur in a variety of contexts with a range of challenges. No matter where they occur, it is imperative that these transitions leave no one behind. That is why we must learn and engage with as many people as possible to holistically manage transitions effectively,” said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “This report is an important step in that learning process.”

“The IEA report highlights that workforce skills mapping is crucial to help us target which skills and qualifications are going to be most in demand in the years to come. Armed with this information, policy-makers, companies and educators can join forces and help workers make the leap from jobs in traditional, fossil fuel-based industries to emerging sectors where we are facing skills shortages,” said European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit. “With next year designated the European Year of Skills, I am positive that we can make a big impact.”

“The transition to net zero represents a generational opportunity for the world’s workers. Governments must work directly with labour organisations and businesses to ensure that workers are provided with the opportunities to prosper in the net zero economy,” said Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson. “Canada is working actively on this, at home and with international partners like the IEA.” 

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Ongoing energy transitions and decarbonisation efforts are poised to bring profound shifts in the sector’s employment, including massive new opportunities for job creation in clean energy. At the same time, traditional energy sectors will experience declining job opportunities.

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