Learn & Earn

The third meeting of “Learn and Earn: Young Leader’s Group for the Development of the U.S.” featured Max Grünig, Senior Fellow at the Ecologic Institute in Berlin, who focused on the need to “build the clean energy jobs of tomorrow.” He discussed with the group the current market for renewable energy jobs in Germany and around the world, obstacles in creating stability and certainty for a career in the renewable energy sector, and how this affects the ability to incentivize people to train and use these skills.

Over the last several years, in particular 2012-2013, the alternative energy sector job market experienced slow growth and even decline in some areas. This had a couple of reasons: first, there was a general shift to Asia for the international market. Second, there were many policy changes in the German market that had a negative effect. However, one has to differentiate between the energy sources within the renewable energy sector. For example, there was an increase of jobs in the wind turbine industry while the photo-voltaic sector experienced a loss of around 45 percent net jobs from 2012-2013. Overall, this period resulted in a slight decrease of employment in this job area in Germany for the first time.

There are a number of factors that limit Germany’s ability to grow job training in the renewable energy sector. One factor is international competition. Some industries in the renewable energy sector, such as solar energy, are impacted heavily by the international market, which lowers the capability of being influenced by domestic policies. Flexibility is another factor. For example, the biomass industry is localized, but has only a certain capacity. What happens to jobs once this capacity is reached? Another major factor is the gap between the demands by the job market and the needs of the employees. The renewable energy sector is an evolving job market. New jobs are emerging that require new qualifications in the form of certifications, degrees, and standards depending on the job. However, oftentimes these qualifications either do not yet exist or the companies do not trust the new qualifications. Some job offers in the sector are unattractive to applicants because of their location, the pay, or the offered contracts.

Participants noted in the discussion that one of the main reasons people leave the renewable energy sector is because of the uncertainty of the job market. The potential labor, when the job environment is uncertain, tends to move into the traditional job market, which leaves gaps in this emerging market.

The German education system seems to have problems in terms of flexibility when new skills are needed for a trade. Even despite demand for skills, there are challenges to building new training programs or university degrees, which need time. There is a problem of mismatch between demand and availability of training programs. In the renewable energy sector this match can occur independently through a naturally increasing demand to upkeep and repair pre-existing renewable energy infrastructure as well as the demand from companies to provide better efficiency and improved quality. It would also help for governments to invest in building confidence in new degrees and trainings and creating policies that encourages job creation.

Information about the working group:

The American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) at Johns Hopkins has been working on bringing together a number of different actors concerned with workforce development in the U.S. to encourage sharing of ideas, learning lessons from different countries, seeing what challenges lay ahead, and where further cooperation is needed to encourage public-private partnerships towards promoting specialized skills training opportunities.

“Learn & Earn” is a working group of young professionals from a variety of different sectors and backgrounds (energy, education, finance, industry, manufacturing, etc.) that gather monthly to discuss the role of workforce training in economic development around the world.

At our first meeting in June 2014, we welcomed Robert Dehm from the German Embassy’s Economic Department. He presented the German Embassy’s Skills Initiative .

Future dates to keep in your calendar:

Thursday, Sep 4: Katie Gage of Enstitute, on difficulties of working with companies in the U.S. to host apprentices

Please check out the LinkedIn profile and Twitter #skillsinitiative

August 7, 2014