Small businesses in the clean energy industry have been taking steps to remedy a worker shortage. Now they're calling on Congress for extra help.
At a hearing in the House subcommittee on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Workforce Development on Tuesday, business owners and advocates spoke with representatives about how to develop talent in clean energy fields, as well as how to support the industry in general following the pandemic and transition from fossil fuel use.
Leticia Colon de Mejias, CEO of Windsor, Connecticut-based Energy Efficiencies Solutions, told the panel that finding qualified staff is the hardest part of running her company. "It is the thing that ails my industry overall," she added.
Small businesses in the sector also need federal support to keep current workers' skills up to speed with quickly evolving technology, Colon de Mejias said. Bills like the Blue Collar to Green Collar Jobs Development Act of 2019, which directs the Department of Energy to create training programs for underrepresented individuals, could help, she said.
In the meantime, Colon de Mejias is working on the problem. She is co-chair of Efficiency For All, a nonprofit that offers training and internship programs to help energy workers obtain needed certifications. But such efforts alone are unlikely to suffice. For example, to meet President Biden's goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2035, the number of workers who spend over 50 percent of their time on solar power would need to more than quadruple to more than 900,000 by that year. Without policy intervention, the solar industry will reach only 400,000 workers by 2030, according to industry advocates.
James Hasselbeck, director of operations at ReVision Energy, said his South Portland, Maine, solar power and renewables company offers an in-house training program to develop workers. But to truly address the problem, he added, U.S. schools need to implement trade programs and educate students about solar energy. "A common piece of feedback we get from our employees is, 'Man, I wish I knew that there was this opportunity when I was going to college,'" he said.