written by Vaughan Woodruff, Director of the ReVision Energy Training Center
The lack of a robust technical workforce is now the greatest threat to our ability to address the climate crisis in the U.S. On the heels of the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, we are seeing an increased focus on electrifying our transportation and building sectors. However, to meet our goals the U.S. will need roughly one million new electricians in the next decade. Without significant intervention, we will fall 600,000 electricians short. Hidden in these numbers is a harsh reality: for every new electrician developed in the U.S., we lose two electricians to retirement or a career change. For every step forward in the national effort to develop our electrical workforce, we are taking two steps back.
If we take a critical look in the mirror, we can identify how we as a country find ourselves here. Though trades professionals often embody qualities that our culture professes as virtues – financial security, self-sufficiency, autonomy – our educational system has marginalized the construction trades for decades. With some exceptions, career and technical education in the U.S. is largely perceived as second-class programming for students that might otherwise drop out of school. This is wrong. The technical trades represent a critical career pathway that supports aspiring professionals and develops crucial contributors to our society’s advancement.
We need to reverse workforce trends and the perception of the construction trades if we are going to act on climate in a real and meaningful way.
ReVision Energy took an important first step in this process in 2018, when we launched our ReVision Energy Electrical Apprenticeship Program (REEAP). At the time, it was clear that traditional electrical licensing pathways weren’t a great fit for sustainably growing the company’s workforce. Our apprenticeship program offers a combination of online courses, in-person instruction, and on-the-job learning. Since 2018, REEAP has had more than twenty-five apprentices achieve an electrical license, and we currently have sixty co-owners on their way to licensure. REEAP is now an indispensable resource to our employees and our business model as we navigate the challenging workforce trends facing the country’s two oldest states, Maine and New Hampshire.
ReVision Energy’s ability to respond meaningfully to the climate crisis will be largely dependent on our workforce development efforts. In June, we were honored when the Maine Department of Labor announced that ReVision Energy was one of fourteen entities to receive funding to further advance apprenticeship in Maine. As part of this funding, we will:
While ambitious and meaningful, this work alone is not enough. To effectively tackle our industry’s long-term needs, we need to actively address the perception of technical trades with students, parents, and educators long before they are making decisions about a career. Recently, ReVision Energy's marketing team collaborated with the ReVision Energy Training Center to strategize solutions to some of ReVision’s longer-term workforce development challenges.
The first time I heard that line this summer, it hit hard. I thought of friends, family, and colleagues who carried the stigma that often accompanies the lack of a college degree. “But you're a Master Electrician,” I’ve said, followed by their response of a head shake with a clear sentiment that their critical accomplishment isn’t largely deemed as “being enough”.
I thought of kids I’ve known who felt demoralized for not being “the right kind of smart” at school even though they could disassemble and reassemble an engine, or build incredible things with their hands. I thought of colleagues with degrees from prestigious academic institutions who ultimately realized that their heads and hearts were best served by working outdoors with tools in hand, implementing solutions to the thing they care about most.
I thought of my own experiences, of how it took me two degrees and a decade-plus of professional experience to find my calling in the solar industry. I thought of how my kids’ generation will need to perceive this work for us to ultimately be successful in responding to the challenge of climate.
We need to work together to save our planet, and doing so will require us to reconsider the role of blue-collar workers, and how we communicate the value of their work to our kids. ReVision Energy's new "Electricians Will Save the World" campaign will soon extend across the Northeast through a coordinated outreach effort to help kids, parents, and educators better understand the importance of clean energy careers.
This effort will complement a new pre-apprenticeship program that will serve communities historically excluded from the construction trades and general workforce. Our campaign will clearly define solar career pathways and provide access to those pathways for individuals in the pre-apprenticeship, as well as for others seeking careers in solar.
We face many workforce challenges today and will face even more substantial ones tomorrow. These daunting problems can be an excuse for inevitable, collective failure or we can recognize them as opportunities to reimagine the path towards a more just and equitable future. The task may seem daunting, but the creative solutions that will rise from these challenges are filled with inspiration and potential. By leading with hope, collaboration, and resolve, we can put electricians in the position to save the world.