With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the United States has outlined a de facto industrial policy to facilitate and accelerate the energy transition while seeking energy security and supply chain resilience. The rapid pace of industrial transformation driven by the energy transition will manifest as a human capital challenge, and the workforce will be realigned to the industrial policy that is rapidly transforming the labor market. The energy transition, combined with nearshoring, will rapidly retool the global economy and, with it, the skills and expertise necessary for workers to succeed in the labor market. A rapid, massive, and ongoing overhaul of workforce development systems will allow today’s and tomorrow’s workers to power the transition to energy security, resilient supply chains, and the new energy economy—but they require the right training opportunities scaled to match the needs of industry to do so.
Policymakers and legislators recognize this challenge, yet strategies and programs often sit in disparate parts of government agencies in labor, trade, commerce, and education. A single strategy that coordinates a diverse range of government policies and programs dedicated to training this emerging workforce can transform how young people prepare for and access the labor market and equip them with the tools to have a chance at economic security and well-being.
Modeled after the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program, we propose the Energy Security Workforce Training (ESWT) Initiative to align existing U.S. government support for education and training focused on the jobs powering the energy transition. The Biden-Harris Administration should name an ESWT Coordinator to manage and align domestic investments in training and workforce across the federal government. The coordinator will spearhead efforts to identify skills gaps with industry, host a ESWT White House Summit to galvanize private and social sector commitments, encourage data normalization and sharing between training programs to identify what works, and ensure funds from existing programs scale evidence-based sector-specific training programs. ESWT should also encompass an international component for nearshored supply chains to perform a similar function to the domestic coordinator in target countries like Mexico and promote two-way learning between domestic and international agencies on successful workforce training investments in clean energy and advanced manufacturing.
Challenge and Opportunity
With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, the United States has a de facto industrial policy to facilitate and accelerate the energy transition while seeking energy security and supply chain resilience. However, our current workforce investments are not focused on the growing green skills gap. We require workforce investment aligned to the industrial policy that is rapidly transforming the labor market, to support both domestic jobs and the foreign supply chains that domestic jobs depend on.
Preparing Americans to Power the Energy Transition
The rapid pace of industrial transformation driven by the energy transition will manifest as a human capital challenge. The energy transition will transform and create new jobs—requiring a massive investment to skill up the workers who will power the energy transition. Driving this rapid transition are billions of dollars slated for incentives and tax credits for renewable energy and infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, and supply chain creation for goods like electric vehicle batteries over the coming years. The vast upheaval caused by the energy transition combined with nearshoring is transforming both current jobs as well as the labor market young people will enter over the coming decade. The jobs created by the energy transition have the potential to shift a whole generation into the middle class while providing meaningful, engaging work.
Moving low-income students into the middle class over the next 10 years will require that education and training institutions meet the rapid pace of industrial transformation required by the energy transition. Education and training providers struggle to keep up with the rapid pace of industrial transformation, resulting in skills gaps. Skills gaps are the distance between the skills graduates leave education and training with and the skills required by industry. Skills gaps rob young people of opportunities and firms of productivity. And according to LinkedIn’s latest Green Economy report, we are facing a green skills gap—with the demand for green skills outpacing the supply in the labor force. Firms have cited skills gaps in diverse sectors related to the energy transition, including infrastructure, direct air capture, electromobility, and geothermal power.
Graduates with market-relevant skills earn between two and six times what their peers earn, based on evaluations of International Youth Foundation’s (IYF) programming. In addition, effective workforce development lowers recruitment, selection, and training costs for firms—thereby lowering the transaction costs to scale moving people into the positions needed to power the energy transition. Industrial transformation for the energy transition involves automation, remote sensing, and networked processes changing the role of the technician—who is no longer required to execute tasks but instead to manage automated processes and robots that now execute tasks. This changes the fundamental skills required of technicians to include higher-order skills for managing processes and robots.
We will not be able to transform industry or seize the opportunities of the new energy future without overhauling education and training systems to build the skills required by this transformation and the industries that will power it. Developing higher-order thinking skills means changing not only what is taught but how teaching happens. For example, students may be asked to evaluate and make actionable recommendations to improve energy efficiency at their school. Because many of these new jobs require higher-order thinking skills, policy investment can play a crucial role in supporting workers and those entering the workforce to be competitive for these jobs.
Creating Resilient Supply Chains, Facilitating Energy Security, and Promoting Global Stability in Strategic Markets
Moving young people into good jobs during this dramatic economic transformation will be critical not only in the United States but also to promote our interests abroad by (1) creating resilient supply chains, 2) securing critical minerals, and (3) avoiding extreme labor market disruptions in the face of a global youth bulge.
Supply chain resilience concerns are nearshoring industrial production—shifting the demand for industrial workers across geographies at a shocking scale and speed—as more manufacturing and heavy industries move back into the United States’ sphere of influence. The energy transition combined with nearshoring will rapidly retool the global economy. We need a rapid, massive, and ongoing overhaul of workforce development systems at home and abroad. The scale of this transition is massive and includes complex, multinational supply chains. Supply chains are being reworked before our eyes as we nearshore production. For example, the port of entry in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, is undergoing rapid expansion in anticipation of explosive growth of imports of spare parts for electric vehicles manufactured in Mexico. These shifting supply chains will require the strategic development of a new workforce.
The United States requires compelling models to increase its soft power to secure critical minerals for the energy transition. Securing crucial minerals for the energy transition will again reshape energy supply chains, as the mineral deposits needed for the energy transition are not necessarily located in the same countries with large oil, gas, or coal deposits. The minerals required for the energy transition are concentrated in China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia, Chile, Russia, and South Africa. We require additional levers to establish productive relationships to secure the minerals required for the energy transition. Workforce investments can be an important source of soft power.
Today’s 1.2 billion young people today make up the largest and most educated generation the world has ever seen, or will ever see, yet they face unemployment rates at nearly triple that of adults. Globally the youth unemployment rate is 17.93% vs. 6.18% for adults. The youth unemployment rate refers to young people aged 15–24 who are available for or seeking employment but who are unemployed. While rich countries have already passed through their own baby booms, with accompanying “youth bulges,” and collected their demographic dividends to power economic growth and wealth, much of the developing world is going through its own demographic transition. While South Korea experienced sustained prosperity once its baby boomers entered the labor force in the early 2000s, Latin America’s youth bulge is just entering the labor force. In regions like Central America, this demographic change is fueling a wave of outmigration. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the youth bulge is making its way through compulsory education with increasing demands for government policy to meet high rates of youth unemployment. It is an open question whether today’s youth bulges globally will drive prosperity as they enter the labor market. Policymakers are faced with shaping labor force training, and government policy rooted in demonstrable industry needs to meet this challenge. At the same time, green jobs is already one of the most rapidly growing occupations. The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that adopting clean energy technologies will generate 14 million jobs by 2030, with 16 million more to retrofit and construct energy-efficient buildings and manufacture new energy vehicles. At the same time, the World Economic Forum’s 2023 future of jobs report cites the green transition as the key driver of job growth. However, the developing world is not making the corresponding investments in training programs for the green jobs that are driving growth.
Alignment with Existing Initiatives
The Biden-Harris Administration’s approach to the energy transition, supply chain resilience, and energy security must address this human capital challenge. Systemic approaches to building the skills for the energy transition through education and training complement the IRA’s incentivized apprenticeships, and focus investments from the IIJA, by building out a complete technical, vocational, education and training system oriented toward building the skills required for the energy transition. We propose a whole-of-government approach that integrates public investment in workforce training to focus on the energy transition and nearshoring with effective approaches to workforce development to address the growing green skills gap that endangers youth employment, the energy transition, energy security and supply chain resilience.
The Biden-Harris Administration Roadmap to Support Good Jobs demonstrates a commitment to building employment and job training into the Investing in America Agenda. The Roadmap catalogs programs throughout the federal government that address employment and workforce training authorized in recent legislation and meant to enable more opportunities for workers to engage with new technology, advanced manufacturing, and clean energy. Some programs had cross-sector reach, like the Good Jobs Challenge that reached 32 states and territories authorized in the American Rescue Plan to invest in workforce partnerships, while others are more targeted to specific industries, like the Battery Workforce Initiative that engages industry in developing a battery manufacturing workforce. The Roadmap’s clearinghouse of related workforce activities across the federal ecosystem presents a meaningful opportunity to advance this commitment by coordinating and strategically implementing these programs under a single series of objectives and metrics.
Identifying evidence-driven training programs can also help fill the gap between practicums and market-based job needs by allowing more students access to practical training than can be reached solely by apprenticeships, which can have high individual transaction costs for grantees to coordinate. Additionally, programs like the Good Jobs Challenge required grantees to complete a skills-gap analysis to ensure their programs fit market needs. The Administration should seek to embed capabilities to conduct skills-gap analyses first before competitive grants are requested and issued to better inform program and grant design from the beginning and to share that learning with the broader workforce training community. By using a coordinated initiative to engage across these programs and legislative mandates, the Administration can create a more catalytic, scalable whole-of-government approach to workforce training.
Collaborating on metrics can also help identify which programs are most effective at meeting the core metrics of workforce training—increased income and job placements—which often are not met in workforce programs. This initiative could be measured across programs and agencies by (1) the successful hiring of workers into quality green jobs, (2) the reduction of employer recruitment and training costs for green jobs, and (3) demonstrable decreases in identified skills gaps—as opposed to a diversity of measures without clear comparability that correspond to the myriad agencies and congressional committees that oversee current workforce investments. Better transferable data measured against comparable metrics can empower agencies and Congress to direct continued funds toward what works to ensure workforce programs are effective.
The DOL’s TAACCCT program provides a model of how the United States has successfully invested in workforce development to respond to labor market shocks in the past. Building on TAACCCT’s legacy and its lessons learned, we propose focusing investment in workforce training to address identified skills gaps in partnership with industry, engaging employers from day one, rather than primarily targeting investment based on participant eligibility. When investing in bridging critical skills gaps in the labor market, strategy and programs must be designed to work with the most marginalized communities (including rural, tribal, and Justice40 communities) to ensure equitable access and participation.
Increased interagency collaboration is required to meet the labor market demands of the energy transition, both in terms of domestic production in the United States and the greening of international supply chains from Mexico to South Africa. Our proposed youth workforce global strategy, the Energy Security Workforce Training Initiative outlined below provides a timely opportunity for the Administration to make progress on its economic development, workforce and climate goals.
Plan of Action
We propose a new Energy Security Workforce Training Initiative to coordinate youth workforce development training investments across the federal government, focused on critical and nearshored supply chains that will power energy security. ESWT will be charged with coordinating U.S. government workforce strategies to build the pipeline for young people to the jobs powering the energy transition. ESWT will rework existing education and training institutions to build critical skills and to transform how young people are oriented to, prepared for, and connected to jobs powering the energy transition. ESWT will play a critical role in cross-sector and intergovernmental learning to invest in what works and to ensure federal workforce investments in collaboration with industry address identified skills gaps in the labor market for the energy transition and resilient supply chains. Research and industry confirmation would inform investments by the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Education (ED), Department of Commerce (DOC), and Department of Labor (DOL) toward building identified critical skills through scalable means with marginalized communities in mind. A key facet of ESWT will be to normalize and align the metrics by which federal, state, and local partners measure program effectiveness to allow for better comparability and long-term potential for scaling the most evidence-driven programs.
The ESWT should be coordinated by the National Economic Council(NEC) and DOC, particularly the Economic Development Administration. Once established, ESWT should also involve an international component focused on workforce investments to build resilience in nearshore supply chains on which U.S. manufacturing and energy security rely. Mexico should serve as an initial pilot of this global initiative because of its intertwined relationship with U.S. supply chains for products like EV batteries. Piloting a novel international workforce training program through private sector collaboration and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), DOL, and U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) investments could help bolster resilience for domestic jobs and manufacturing. Based on these results, ESWT could expand into other geographies of critical supply chains, such as Chile and Brazil. To launch ESWT, the Biden Administration should pursue the following steps.
Recommendation 1. The NEC should name an ESWT Initiative Coordinator in conjunction with a DOC or DOL lead who will spearhead coordination between different agency workforce training activities.
With limited growth in government funding over the coming years, a key challenge will be more effectively coordinating existing programs and funds in service of training young people for demonstrated skills gaps in the marketplace. As these new programs are implemented through existing legislation, a central entity in charge of coordinating implementation, learning, and investments can best ensure that funds are directed equitably and effectively. Additionally, this initial declaration can lay the groundwork to build capacity within the federal government to conduct market analyses and consult with industries to better inform program design and grant giving across the country. The DOC and the Economic Development Administration seem best positioned to lead this effort with an existing track record through the Good Jobs Challenge and capacity to engage fully with industry to build trust that curricula and training are conducted by people that employers verify as experts. However, the DOL could also take a co-lead role due to authorities established under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). In selecting lead agencies for ESWT, these criteria should be followed:
- Access to emerging business intelligence regarding industry-critical skills—DOC, DOE
- Combined international and domestic remit—DOE/DOL, DOC (ITA)
- Remit that allows department to focus investment on demonstrated skills gaps, indicated by higher wages and churn—DOC
- Permitted to convene advisory committees from the private sector under the Federal Advisory Committee Act—DOC
Recommendation 2. The DOC and NEC, working with partner agencies, should collaborate to identify and analyze skills gaps and establish private-sector feedback councils to consult on real-time industry needs.
As a first step, DOC should commission or conduct research to identify quantitative and qualitative skills gaps related to the energy transition in critical supply chains both domestically and in key international markets — energy efficiency in advanced manufacturing, electric vehicle production, steel, batteries, rare earth minerals, construction, infrastructure and clean energy. DOC should budget for 20 skills gap assessments for critical occupational groups (high volume of jobs and uncertainty related to required, relevant skills) in the above-mentioned sectors. Each skills gap assessment should cost roughly $100,000, bringing the total investment to $2 million over a six-to-twelve-month period. Each skills gap assessment will determine the critical and scarce skills in a labor market for a given occupation and the degree to which existing education and training providers meet the demand for skills.
This research is central to forming effective programs to ensure investments align with industry skills needs and to lower direct costs on education providers, who often lack direct expertise in this form of analysis. Commissioning these studies can help build a robust ecosystem of labor market skills gap analysts and build capacity within the federal government to conduct these studies. By completing analysis in advance of competitive grant processes, federal grants can be better directed to training based on high-need industry skill sets to ensure participating students have market-driven employment opportunities on completion. The initial research phase would occur over a six-month timeline, including staffing and procurement. The ESWT coordinator would work with DOC, ED, and DOL to procure curricula, enrollment, and foreign labor market data. Partner agencies in this effort should also include the Departments of Education, Labor, and Energy. The research would draw upon existing research on the topic conducted by Jobs for the Future, IYF, the Project on Workforce at Harvard, and LinkedIn’s Economic Graph.
Recommendation 3. Host the Energy Security Workforce Development White House Summit to galvanize public, private, and social sector partners to address identified skills gaps.
The ESWT coordinator would present the identified quantitative and qualitative skills gaps at an action-oriented White House Summit with industry, state and local government partners, education providers, and philanthropic institutions. The Summit could serve as a youth-led gathering focused on workforce and upskilling for critical new industries and galvanize a call to action across sectors and localities. Participants will be asked to prioritize among potential choices based on research findings, available funding mechanisms, and imperatives to transform education and training systems at scale and at pace with industrial transformation. Addressing the identified skills gaps will require partnering with and securing the buy-in of both educational institutions as well as industry groups to identify what skills unlock opportunities in given labor markets, develop demand-driven training, and expanded capacity of education and training providers in order to align interests as well as curricula so that key players have the incentives and capacity to continually update curricula—creating lasting change at scale. This summit would also serve as a call to action for private sector partnerships to invest in helping reskill workers and establish buy-in from the public and civil society actors.
Recommendation 4. Establish standards and data sharing processes for linking existing training funds and programs with industry needs by convening state and local grantees, state agencies, and federal government partners.
ESWT should lay out a common series of metrics by which the federal government will assess workforce training programs to better equip efforts to scale successful programs with comparable evidence and empower policymakers to invest in what works. We recommend using the following metrics:
- Successful hiring of workers into quality green jobs
- The reduction of employer recruitment and training costs for green jobs
- Demonstrable decreases in identified skills gaps
Metrics 2 and 3 will rely on ongoing industry consultations—as well as data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because of the diffuse nature of existing skills gap analyses across federal grantees and workforce training programs, ESWT should serve as a convenor for learning between jurisdictions. Models for federal government data clearinghouses could be effective as well as direct sharing of evidence and results between education providers across a series of common metrics.
Recommendation 5. Ensure grants and investments in workforce training are tied to addressing specific identified skills gaps, not just by regional employment rates.
A key function of ESWT would be to determine feasible and impactful strategies to address skills gaps in critical supply chains, given the identified gaps, existing funding mechanisms, the buy-in of critical actors in key labor markets (both domestic and international), agency priorities, and the imperative to make transformative change at scale. The coordinator could help spur agencies to pursue flexible procurement and grant-making focused on outcomes and tied to clear skills gap criteria to ensure training demonstrably develops skills required by market needs for the energy transition and growing domestic supply chains. While the Good Jobs Challenge required skills gap analysis of grantees, advanced analyses by the ESWT Initiative could inform grant requirements to ensure federal funds are directed to high-need programs. As many of these fields are new, innovative funding mechanisms could be used to meet identified skills gaps and experiment with new training programs through tiered evidence models. Establishing criteria for successful workforce training programs could also serve as a market demand-pull signal that the federal government is willing and able to invest in certain types of training, crowding-in potential new players and private sector resources to create programs tailored for the skills industry needs.
Depending on the local context, the key players, and the nature of the strategy to bridge the skills gap for each supply chain, the coordinating department will determine what financing mechanism and issuing agency is most appropriate: compacts, grants, cooperative agreements, or contracts. For example, to develop skills related to worker safety in rare-earth mineral mines in South Africa or South America, the DOL could issue a grant under the Bureau of International Labor Affairs. To develop the data science skills critical for industrial and residential energy efficiency, the ED could issue a grants program to replicate Los Angeles Unified School District’s Common Core-aligned data science curriculum.
Recommendation 6. Congress should authorize flexible workforce training grants to disperse—based on identified industry needs—toward evidence-driven, scalable training models and funding for ESWT within the DOC to facilitate continued industry skills need assessments.
Congress should establish dedicated staff and infrastructure for ESWT to oversee workforce training investments and actively analyze industry needs to inform federal workforce investment strategies. Congress and the Administration should also explore how to incentivize public-private partnerships and requirements for energy, manufacturing, and supply chain companies to engage in curriculum development efforts or provide technical expertise to access tax credits included in the IRA or CHIPS.
Recommendation 7. ESWT could also incorporate an international perspective for nearshored supply chains critical to energy security and advanced manufacturing.
To pilot this model, we recommend:
- Bilateral coordination of federal workforce and training investments across agencies like State, USAID, and DFC: Mexico could serve as an ideal pilot country due to its close ties with U.S. supply chains and growth in the manufacturing sector. This coordination effort should direct USAID and other government funding toward workforce training for industries critical to domestic supply chains for energy security and green jobs.
- Two-way learning between domestic and international workforce programs: As ESWT develops effective strategies to address the skills gap for the energy transition, the interagency initiative will identify opportunities for two-way learning. For example, as curricula for eclectic vehicle assembly is developed and piloted in Mexico with support from USAID, it could inform U.S.-based community colleges’ work with the DOL and DOE.
- If successful, expand to additional aligned countries including Brazil, India, and South Africa and nations throughout the Americas that source energy and manufacturing inputs for the green economy: ESWT could facilitate scalable public-private partnership vehicles for partner country governments, private corporations, philanthropy, and nongovernmental organizations to collaborate and fund country-dedicated programs to train their energy and climate workforce. This step could be done in conjunction with naming a Special Envoy at the State Department to coordinate diplomatic engagement with partner countries. The Envoy and Coordinator should have expertise and experience in North and South America economic relations and diplomacy, and labor markets economics. Congress could incorporate dedicated funds for ESWT into annual appropriations at State.
The transition from an economy fueled by human and animal labor to fossil fuels took roughly 200 years (1760–1960) and was associated with massive labor market disruptions as society and workers reacted to a retooled economy. Avoiding similar labor market disruptions as we seek to transition off fossil fuels over decades, not centuries, will require concentrated coordinated action. The Energy Security Workforce Training Initiative will overhaul education and training systems to develop the skills needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the labor markets central to long-term U.S. energy security and ensure that supply chains are resilient to shocks. Such a coordinated investment in training will lower recruitment, selection, and training costs for firms while increasing productivity and move people into the middle class with the jobs fueling the energy transition.
By focusing federal workforce funding on addressing the green skills gap, we will be able to address the human capital challenges implicit in scaling the infrastructure, manufacturing overhaul, and supply chain reconfiguration necessary to secure a just transition, both at home and abroad. By building in critical international supply chains both for manufacturing and energy security from day one, the ESWT Initiative incorporates two-way learning as a means to knit together strategic supply chains through bilateral investments in equitable workforce initiatives.
Existing investments in workforce development are fragmented and are not oriented toward building the workforce needed to a net-zero carbon world, with secure energy supplies and resilient supply chains. This collaboration model ensures that workforce investments are aligned towards the net-zero carbon by 2050 aim and are targeted to the domestic and international labor markets essential to ensuring that aim, energy security, and supply chain resilience.
Similarly, to the Feed the Future Coordinator, created in 2009 because of global food insecurity and recognizing after the L’Aquila Italy G8 Summit Joint Statement on Global Food Security towards a goal of mobilizing $20 million over three years towards global agricultural and development that we needed a greater focus on food security.
This role would ensure that programs are aligned around common goal and measuring progress towards that goal. The NEC oversees the work of the coordinator. Ultimately, the Coordinator would work with Congress and the NEC to develop authorization language.
Instead of creating a new fund or program requiring congressional authorization, the ESWT strategy would align existing workforce investments across government with the Administration’s aim of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Skills gaps are persistent problems around the world as education and training systems struggle to keep up with changing demands for skills. Simply investing in training systems, without addressing the underlying causes of skills gaps, will not address skills gaps. Instead, investment must be tied to the development of market-demanded skills. In IYF’s experience, this requires understanding quantitative and qualitative skills gaps, developing an industry consensus around priority skills, and driving changes to curricula, teaching practices, and student services to orient and train young people for opportunities.
Our proposed unified approach to workforce development for the energy transition aligns with the priorities of the former Congress’s House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment, the US Strategy to Combat Climate Change through International Development; and the Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America.
Systemic workforce approaches that engage the public, private, and civil sectors spur catalytic investments and bring new partners to the table in line with USAID’s commitment to drive progress, not simply development programs. However, there has been little concentrated investment to build the necessary skills for the energy transition. A coordinated investment strategy to support systemic approaches to build the workforce also aligns with USAID’s localization agenda by:
- Building the capacity of local Technical Vocational Education and Training systems to develop the workforce that each country needs to meet its zero-emission commitments while continuing to grow its economy.
- Developing the capacity of local organizations, whose mission will be to facilitate workforce development efforts between the public, private and civil sectors.
- Incentivize industrial policy changes to include workforce considerations in the plan to decarbonize.
- Creating increased opportunities to generate and share evidence on successful workforce strategies and programs. To keep up with this rapid transformation of the economy, it will be essential to share information, lessons learned, and effective approaches across international, multilateral, and bilateral organizations and through public private partnerships. For example, the Inter-American Development Bank has identified the Just Transition as a strategic priority and is working with LinkedIn to identify critical skills. As Abby Finkenauer, the State Department’s Special Envoy for Global Youth Issues, has long championed, bringing domestic and international lessons together will be critical to make a more inclusive decarbonized economy possible.
The DOE should use the full authority granted to it by Congress in executing other transactions to advance the clean energy transition and develop secure energy infrastructure in line with their agency mission.
Large injections of funding like with the IIJA and IRA without the people power to deliver on legislation can result in slow implementation, undermining the intentions of the bills.