A strong energy workforce is critical for the US to fully recover from the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. These are the words of US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm during a roundtable hosted by the Department of Energy (DoE), where the findings of a new study on the US energy workforce were announced.
With almost all the sectors of the US economy experiencing massive job losses due to COVID-19 in 2020, the energy sector continued with its pre-pandemic trend of being the fastest-growing segment by adding back some 560,000 positions by the end of the year, the 2021 US Energy Employment Report (USEER) has found.
Granholm added: “Although we are still grappling with the economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country is turning a corner and a strong energy workforce is critical to our full recovery.
“…energy employment is on the rebound, and with the robust investments in President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda we are set to supercharge the energy job market.”
With some 839,000 jobs being lost within the energy sector alone in 2020 resulting in a 10% decline from 8.4 million to 7.5 million jobs, the sector, owing to increased investments in innovation, grid modernisation and decarbonisation and supporting policies, recovered almost half of the jobs by end of the year.
Energy segments that recorded the highest number of job losses in 2020 include electric power generation, transmission, distribution and storage and fuels (9.8% decline in positions – resulting in the number of workers still with jobs to 3.1 million), energy efficiency (11.4% decline to leave 2.1 million with jobs) and motor vehicles (9% decline resulting in 2.3 million active jobs).
However, despite the pandemic halting or delaying investments in other sectors, the increased investments in electric vehicles, battery energy storage, and wind generation segments resulted in an increase in the number of jobs created. The electric vehicle segment saw an increase in jobs created by 8% (6,000 jobs), the battery storage by 1% (800 jobs), the hybrid electric vehicles by 6% (6,000 jobs), and the wind generation sector by 2% (2,000 jobs).
Increased investments within the energy sector are expected to result in more jobs being created with the energy efficiency sector alone anticipating a 10.1% in job increases whilst the energy generation segment hopes to record an 8.1% increase in jobs. The transportation, distribution, and storage sector expects a 4.2% job growth.
Aligning investments with the President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and the infrastructure plan is likely to help create more jobs and return the energy sector to pre-pandemic job creation levels, according to the DOE. From 2015 to 2019, the annual growth rate for energy employment in the US was 3%—double compared to 1.5% in the general economy.
Martin Shields, Professor of Economics at Colorado State University, said that although the renewable energy sector “was hard hit by the pandemic, [the sector] provides significant potential as an economic driver. Modernisation of the grid and the installation of new PV and wind capacity will provide thousands of new, high-paying jobs in manufacturing, installation and maintenance across the country.”