America’s Energy Future Depends on Cultivating the Next Generation of Talent
In order to meet the country’s evolving energy needs, Colorado will depend on a new generation of workers to develop more efficient energy sources.
Since the start of the Industrial Age, affordable and reliable energy has helped fuel economic growth. Studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between energy consumption and economic growth. Each time the material we use for energy changes (from wood to coal to nuclear, for example), society adapts.
The energy industry, a sector that has long fueled Colorado’s labor force, has seen a recent shortage of its own: an insufficiently skilled workforce committed to the continued safe and responsible development of energy. And on the heels of the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, a skilled workforce will be more important than ever.
Of the $740 billion aimed at reducing inflation, $370 billion over multiple years is earmarked for energy and climate provisions in the form of tax rebates, credits, research dollars, loans, and grants to jump-start our energy future. The ultimate outcome of the bill’s priorities will be realized in the future, but we know the provisions will be impactful on all forms of energy: solar and wind, oil, natural gas and hydrogen.
For decades, the oil and natural gas industry has served as one of Colorado’s strongest economic engines. Colorado is the fifth-largest crude oil producing state, the seventh largest natural gas producing state, and 35% of the state’s net electricity generation comes from renewables — wind accounting for four-fifths, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The U.S. Department of Energy estimated that the energy industry as a whole in Colorado directly employed 146,238 people in 2021. That figure doesn’t even account for the indirect or induced jobs as a result of the direct industry contribution. This includes research facilities like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, skilled union and labor jobs, and support activities related to the industry and project.
It’s been estimated that 55 percent of the electric and natural gas utility workers across the country are set to retire, along with nearly a third of the oil and natural gas industry’s engineers and geoscientists to retire within the decade. However, considering the continued growth in clean energy and renewables’ burgeoning technology sector, Colorado has a tremendous opportunity to continue its energy leadership. But in order to meet the country’s evolving energy needs, Colorado will depend on a new generation of workers to build upon the successes already achieved over the past decades and innovate the way we develop energy that is more efficient, cleaner, and safer.
Other industries in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields share the energy industry’s struggles to fill their ranks, although the healthcare industry saw a spike during the pandemic. According to a study released by Pew Research Center, minorities and females are still underrepresented in terms of the overall share of employment and growth. While the inclusion of women varies by field, Black and Hispanic graduates are underrepresented compared to their share of all degrees.
In other words, there is plenty of opportunity to help expose kids across Denver supporting their STEM skills within the energy industry. There were 12,000 new clean energy jobs in Colorado alone in 2021. Addressing the gaps in our STEM workforce begins with recognizing that our future leaders and innovators are currently sitting in classrooms, curious about the world, hungry for knowledge and eager to imagine their future careers. It is up to us to inspire them.
As part of greeting the new school year, trade associations and companies within the energy space are working together to host Denver’s fifth annual Energy Day Colorado Festival at East High School on Sept. 24, 2022, which is a year-round initiative that engages students’ interests in energy and STEM education through summer camps and a capstone festival with hands-on demonstrations across the industry.
We encourage you to join us at Energy Day Colorado — and work with us to inspire and encourage the next generation of energy leaders.
Andrew Browning is the chief operating officer of Consumer Energy Alliance and the chief organizer of Denver’s Energy Day festival.