Once again, we as a nation must confront fundamental questions about racism, inequality, and lack of diversity. In corporate America, a lot has changed, but the lack of progress in hiring more minorities is ever present. A recent survey conducted indicated that 64% of workers in entry level positions are white. In top executive ranks, according to the same survey, 85% are white. The energy industry in which I work is hardly an outlier in this trend.Yet in many ways the energy industry is undergoing tremendous change. Renewable resources are steadily usurping fossil fuels. Technology is replacing manual processes. Large sections of industry labor are retiring. But the faces that design, engineer, and manage the industry remain the same. A 2015 survey of U.S. utility boards found that only 5% included women, while 13% of board members among the top 10 publicly owned utilities were African American or Latino.
Even in the more nascent solar energy industry, African Americans account for only 9% of the workforce.A quadrennial energy review released by the United States Department of Energy indicates that 25% of the utility workforce will be eligible to retire within the next 5 years creating a significant challenge. Hiring managers report the lack of training, experience, or technical skills as reasons for the difficulty in hiring new utility staff. With women and minorities still lacking access to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education required to fill technical roles, the difficulties in hiring these underrepresented demographics for utilities are compounded.
But with nearly a 13% African American unemployment rate as of August 2020, the potential workforce is there, just waiting to be connected to training and employment opportunities.In response, utilities have invested in technical training initiatives to bolster the incoming workforce. These efforts create a candidate pipeline and provide new opportunities for underrepresented groups. Several utilities have created programs to provide industry-specific training that candidates need. For example, the 2008 PG&E PowerPathway program provides practical training for women, minorities, and veterans. Just months after enrolling, many students find in-demand jobs at fair wages. PowerPathway has trained more than 800 people, with 80% obtaining careers in PG&E or other utilities.
The benefits of these initiatives go beyond an increase in employee numbers. Diversity leads to better innovation and decision-making, improving company performance. America’s energy industries need re-thinking and re-imagining and hiring people with different perspectives can help find these innovative ideas. These initiative-driven opportunities are also important for the employees and their communities. Minority students are often the first in their family to attend college. A foothold into a stable energy company provides a path to home ownership and financial security and can have a positive ripple effect on the individual’s community. With a more diverse workforce, utility companies can better understand the needs of their customers.
Hiring more diverse candidates will also help solve structural inequality issues that we’ve seen brought to the forefront again this year with protests across the nation. Take, for example, power plants that are built in minority neighborhoods. This would be less likely to happen if people of color — drawn from those neighborhoods — were in positions to make key decisions. So-called fence line communities — those located closest to oil and natural gas facilities — are disproportionately African American.
There are plenty of challenges for future utility professionals to solve: reducing our carbon footprint, maintaining infrastructure, and meeting ever-increasing energy demand. The key is to provide the training and employment opportunities to those future professionals. I call on underrepresented industry members and utility leaders to join me and work on diversifying our workforce to solve climate change, improve energy efficiency, and recruit the next generation of new faces and new ideas.
Note this article was published on medium: https://medium.com/@sadderly/bridging-the-diversity-gap-in-energy-46eb89355d24