HARTFORD, CT — The good news: there’s growing demand for energy-related jobs in Connecticut. The bad news: like their counterparts in manufacturing, most business leaders in the energy sector are struggling to fill entry-level positions due to a lack of qualified candidates, a new survey found.
As interest in renewable energy and energy efficiency continues to swell, the sector is poised to continue growing in the state. Of the business leaders polled, 56 percent plan to hire in the next year, 82 percent plan to in the next three years, and 61 percent plan to within five years, according to the 2017 Survey of Connecticut Energy & Energy Efficiency Workforce Needs.
But many worry whether they will be able to fill those jobs. More than half, or 57 percent, said they have trouble finding qualified entry-level workers — for HVAC and plumbing jobs, in particular.
Of those surveyed, 73 percent said a lack of required technical skills and certifications was among the biggest obstacles, and 45 percent cited basic career skills like teamwork, communication, and problem solving as barriers.
The survey was commissioned by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and developed with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s Education & Workforce Partnership. It was sent in April to 820 business leaders, of which 62 responded.
Energy sector leaders are echoing concerns voiced just last month by manufacturing business owners, who said in a separate survey they will have more than 13,000 jobs to fill by next year but struggle to attract and retain qualified workers.
“The state has responded robustly to the needs of the manufacturing sector,” Andrea Comer, vice president of workforce strategies for the CBIA Education & Workforce Partnership, said in a statement. “While the need in terms of numbers in the energy sector may not be as high, the aging of the workforce is just as real. We must be committed to ensuring that all businesses in the state have the talent pipeline needed to thrive and contribute to our economy’s health.”
There currently are 63,000 jobs in the energy industry in Connecticut, at 5,600 businesses, according to the partnership. The greatest number of employees work in high efficiency HVAC and renewable heating and cooling firms.
“Statewide, we see a growing need for trained technicians to work in energy efficiency and weatherization programs,” Diane Duva, director of DEEP’s Office of Energy Demand, said in a statement. “We support efforts to close the gaps between workforce training and clean energy industry needs,” she added, including the energy management degree program and Tunxis Community College.
To help alleviate the problem, CBIA and DEEP say: regional workforce development boards in the state should give entry-level training in the energy sector to unemployed and underemployed individuals; work-based programs that partner with technical high schools in the state should provide training for in-demand energy sector jobs; and the state Department of Labor should create an energy sector apprenticeship program, like it has for the manufacturing, healthcare and business services industries.
DEEP and CBIA also recommend investing in community college-based certificate and associate degree programs that would fill gaps in training for entry level and career changing employees. The groups say such programs should focus on practical skills needed by energy auditors, analysts and building automation technicians.