Cantwell Legislation to Better Prepare the Workforce for New Opportunities in Energy Sector

Millions of new jobs in energy sector

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) recently introduced legislation the 21st Century Workforce (S. 1304), to better prepare an emerging workforce and to mitigate a pending shortage of skilled workers in the energy sector. In Washington state, more than 60 percent of utility workers are over the age of 44, and 30 percent are 55 or older.

Sen. Cantwell’s bill will provide employers a more qualified pool of job applicants and address the skills gap for jobs in the energy sector. The proposal deals with the need for community colleges and apprentice training in the development of a skilled energy workforce. First, the bill would establish a National Center for Excellence which would be a nationwide advisory board, including representatives from industry, labor, education, and state and local government, for the development of a skilled energy workforce. The advisory board would help develop the next generation of energy talent by integrating educational standards and apprenticeships, as well as working to replicate existing successful energy curricula. 

The bill would also make key investments in job training for careers in both the traditional and clean energy sectors. A competitive grant program would be open to public and non-profit applicants and priority would be given to applications that provide job training through a community college or registered apprenticeship program that provides students with an industry recognized credential upon successful completion. Applicants would be required to provide matching funds to leverage federal investment.

“We are on the cusp of a revolution in energy jobs – one that is already underway here in the Pacific Northwest,” said Sen. Cantwell. “Both the new technologies we will install and the near-term spike in retirements in the traditional energy sector will require millions of workers. We have a huge opportunity to invest in our workforce and create the next generation of skilled workers, and this bill works to accelerate that.”

"We appreciate Senator Cantwell's efforts to partner with us to address important workforce needs for utilities, particularly within the energy sector," said Pat McCarty, generation manager at Tacoma Power. "We look forward to working with her to enact this important proposal."

The pending workforce shortage not only applies to existing jobs, but to new jobs. Over the next 10 years, 55 percent of the current industry’s workers will need to be replaced nationwide. Furthermore, the energy sector will need an additional 1.5 million workers for new jobs in the next 15 years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Over the next decade, more than half of today’s skilled utility workforce is expected to turn over, and more than one-third of the workforce may need to be replaced over the next five years,” said Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn. “We thank Senator Cantwell for taking a holistic and comprehensive approach to energy workforce development that takes into account opportunities for career coaching and support for state consortia that will enhance efforts to encourage a diverse group of students to pursue careers in the energy sector.”

“We are excited and deeply appreciative of Senator Cantwell’s bill, as it opens new doors for Department of Energy investment in innovative institutions like Western and our Institute for Energy Studies. These programs will prepare students to be the new wave of broadly prepared graduates who will transform future energy systems toward a more sustainable path, “ declared Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard. “With investment from the Department of Energy in our Institute for Energy Studies, we can speed up the process of helping our students acquire a strong blend of analytical and communication skills, along with energy-related expertise that energy experts have identified as essential to the workforce needs in Washington’s growing clean energy economy.”

Sen. Cantwell is the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will hold a hearing on her workforce proposal tomorrow, starting at 7 a.m. PT, which you can watch online here. The committee is working on bipartisan, comprehensive energy legislation, and the senator is looking to include this workforce proposal in the larger bill.