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Need a Green Workforce? Look No Further than the Manufacturing Extension Partnership

Young maintenance engineer team working in wind turbine farm at sunset
Credit: iStock/aydinmutlu

45% annual growth.

It’s a number that could make any workforce or economic development professional’s eyes pop out of their sockets.

I was literally blown away by that number, which is the expected annual growth rate of the demand for wind turbine service technicians. This profession is just one of many new green job industries growing throughout the United States. And though the job is relatively challenging – lugging 50 pounds of gear up long ladders into confined spaces, traveling constantly to remote parts of the country, and dealing with all types of weather – it also pays $80,000 annually without a college degree. Job postings for this role are soaring, up sixfold since 2018, as the 73,000 wind turbines across 44 states need their twice-yearly checkups.

What’s driving this growth? The exciting confluence of declining prices for renewable energy, energy-efficient construction, increasing demand for electric vehicles (EVs), and government-funded incentives are going to create a net increase of 18 million jobs! Many of these jobs have been around for a long time, and others are brand new. Just check out this exciting list of even more environmentally friendly careers:

  • Renewable energy engineer
  • Solar panel installer (expected to grow 22% over the next 10 years!)
  • Eco-builder
  • Sustainability expert
  • Recyclable materials collectors
  • Electric vehicle production technician
  • EV charging station maintenance technician

When it comes to growing our manufacturing workforce, these new jobs can certainly be the wind beneath our collective wings.

Why is this important to the MEP National Network?

The answer, my friends, is NOT blowing in the wind. It’s actually pretty easy: For the MEP National Network™, which is dedicated to nurturing and advancing the manufacturing sector, embracing the green jobs movement aligns seamlessly with our mission. Because of our national reach and close relationships with more than 100,000 manufacturing businesses, our National Network is in a unique position not only to develop more wind turbine service technicians, but also to create seamless talent pipelines for a wide range of green jobs, which have grown more than 50% since 2019.

This is where the workforce puck is headed. The number of green jobs are expected to expand to nearly 24 million, comprising 14% of total U.S. jobs, by 2030. In fact, fully a third of American workers – up to 51.6 million people – whose jobs are threatened by automation or artificial intelligence could be reskilled into green jobs.

Who should we engage in green jobs?

Honestly, everyone! To fully harness this transformative energy, it is essential to embrace an inclusive approach. Forget the traditional workforce – it’s time for a breath of fresh air for our new manufacturing and maintenance jobs. From young people to underserved adults, new immigrants to people with special needs, there’s a place for everyone in the new, environmentally focused workforce. Here are a few areas where MEP Centers can play an important role.

  • Youth: I was excited to read about Offshore Wind Youth Action, which was launched by New York’s Energy Research and Development Authority to educate kids about wind’s role in battling climate change and share information about jobs in this field. The MEP National Network™ has similar examples of youth engagement activities, from the introductory What’s So Cool About Manufacturing program taking place across Pennsylvania to the intensive Early College Early Career youth apprenticeship program in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Second chance hiring: One of the most robust and successful areas of workforce development for the MEP National Network™ has been in training adults impacted by the justice system. From Indiana’s Manufacturing Skills for Success, Ohio’s ACCESS program, and Missouri’s Basics of Manufacturing, to the in-prison training programs of Tennessee and Rhode Island, we have a strong foundation for helping adults re-enter the workforce across a wide range of industries.
  • Underserved or displaced workers: Already, some manufacturers are launching their own training programs specifically for underserved or displaced adults. In the MEP world, I’ve been impressed by the work of New Jersey MEP, Maryland MEP, and so many more Centers that have prioritized this important demographic.
  • People with special needs: To fill so many open jobs, we’re going to need a wider talent pipeline. That’s why nonprofits such as the Uniquely Abled Project will be critical to provide the specific and tailored training programs that will engage people who generally are forced to sit on the sidelines of our workforce.

Next steps

When it comes to the rise of green jobs, the winds of change are blowing stronger every day. I’ve written previously about the importance of workforce innovation, with numerous examples of MEP Centers engaging new populations, using new technologies, testing out new partnerships and more.

Let’s make sure that the rising wind fills all sails – for our workers, for our companies, and for our communities. Only through an inclusive, entrepreneurial approach can we fill the green jobs of the future.

About the author

Matt Fieldman

Matthew Fieldman is currently Executive Director of America Works, a nationwide initiative to coordinate the American manufacturing industry's training efforts, generating a more capable, skilled, and diverse workforce. Based at MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, Matt works across the nation's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) system to increase collaboration, efficiency, and impact of local and regional workforce development efforts.

Previously, he was Vice President of External Affairs for MAGNET, a nonprofit that helps Northeast Ohio’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers grow locally while competing globally. In this role, he launched the Ohio Manufacturing Survey; mspire, a regional startup pitch competition; helped launch manufacturing apprenticeships for inner-city youth; and is responsible for fundraising, legislative relations, media relations, and more. Concurrently, Matthew is the founding Board Chair of EDWINS Restaurant and Leadership Institute, Cleveland's first nonprofit restaurant and one of the first of its kind nationally to train formerly incarcerated individuals to work in fine dining. He raised over $600,000 to start EDWINS and was named “2014 Fundraiser of the Year” by Fundraising Success magazine for his efforts. He is also the founder of Cleveland Codes, one of the nation's first nonprofit software bootcamps devoted specifically to training low-income adults for careers in technology. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Matt earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, cum laude, from the University of Florida, a Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Case Western Reserve University. He is a former Ariane de Rothschild and American Council on Germany Transatlantic Fellow, and is currently a Civil Society Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

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