August 11, 2020
Interested in a clean energy career? New resources are now available!
Considering a career in clean energy? You’re not alone. In 2019 Clean Jobs Midwest reported that there were more than 61,800 people working in clean energy jobs across the state—1 in 3 of them in Greater Minnesota—an increase of over 1,000 jobs just that year. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, it is estimated that Minnesota has lost more than 11,500 clean energy jobs, or 18 percent of its workforce. But there are already early signs of recovery, and myriad ways that those looking for work in an in-demand field can benefit from building Minnesota’s clean energy future.
During this time of economic hardship for clean energy workers and so many others, the industry and its workforce have shown themselves to be resilient—with local companies like Impact Power Solutions showing significant growth amid the recession—and signals that renewable energy will play a central role in economic recovery (see recent announcements from Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power).
Before the pandemic, clean energy jobs were growing 2.5 times faster than overall job growth in Minnesota. To help meet this demand for growth, the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), a group that helps people across Minnesota plan and implement renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, began a Clean Energy Job Board to host the impressive number of employment opportunities in the industry. Though new postings slowed during COVID-19, they have been picking up again, particularly as solar installations accelerate and community action agencies return to weatherizing homes.
Leading jobs in the clean energy industry
CERTs staff talk to a lot of people across Minnesota every year, from community events and city council meetings to Farmfest and the State Fair, and now through virtual means. When people hear about the rapid growth of the clean energy sector, the first question they ask is typically: “What jobs are available and what do they pay?” That one’s easy. Some of the most common opportunities posted to the job board over the last couple years have been solar installers, wind technicians, and weatherization specialists, all of which are good family-supporting jobs.
Here’s a glimpse at those leading jobs:
Solar Installer: Assemble, install, or maintain solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on roofs or other structures in compliance with site assessment and schematics. Average pay of $22.52/hour and $46,850/year in 2019.
Wind Technician: Inspect, diagnose, adjust, or repair wind turbines. Perform maintenance on wind turbine equipment including resolving electrical, mechanical, and hydraulic malfunctions. Average pay of $27.26/hour and $56,700/year in 2019.
HVAC Mechanic: Install or repair heating, central air conditioning, or refrigeration systems, including oil burners, hot-air furnaces, and heating stoves. Average pay of $24.72/hour and $51,420/year in 2019.
Training for a career in clean energy
Whether we’re talking to high schoolers thinking about starting their careers or other folks looking to make a shift to a growing field, the second question we usually hear is, “So how would someone go about getting trained to be part of the clean energy industry?” The initial answer is simple: find a local training program.
For many important clean energy careers—like electricians, HVAC technicians, construction, engineers, planners, and architects—it’s relatively easy to find local training programs that aren’t necessarily clean energy specific. There are also great specialized training programs for people in Minnesota looking to get into the clean energy industry:
Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Canby is the state leader in wind energy training.
Century College in White Bear Lake is well known for solar energy training.
Minneapolis Electrical JATC in St. Michael offers a competitive electrical apprenticeship program.
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet has been offering a comprehensive clean energy technician program for years.
Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona is training dozens of green construction and weatherization professionals each year.
Midwest Renewable Energy Society offers a variety of popular solar training programs.
The new Minneapolis Regional Apprenticeship Training Center in North Minneapolis that just started offering training with ambitious plans for growth.
But when you dig a little deeper, the answer to the question of how to navigate a career in the clean energy economy is a little more complicated. It feels like you need a tour guide to walk through all of the options and see what the right fit is for each individual. That’s why CERTs created a new online resource for introducing people to clean energy careers and training opportunities. Here’s a quick tour of what you’ll find there:
The Numbers: You can start by learning about the sector’s rapid growth, and understand the distribution of jobs by technology sector and role (and more).
The Careers: Drawing on the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s resources, you can learn about specific careers and their associated education requirements, certifications, and pay.
The People: Then, thanks to Names Behind the Numbers from Clean Energy Economy Minnesota and The Power of Minnesota, you can learn more about what people in the industry in Minnesota actually do on a day-to-day basis.
The Training: Explore a map and list of available specialized training programs in Minnesota to prepare you for a range of careers.
As more find their way into the clean energy workforce, there are a growing number of blueprints for how to engage and help accelerate a green, clean-energy-fueled recovery—from strategies to eliminate energy burden in Minnesota by weatherizing 500,000 homes to Rewiring America’s call for electrifying everything in our economy and powering it with clean energy. And it’s clear based on recent reports that getting from Minnesota’s current level of 25% renewable energy generation to much higher levels is not only possible, but also affordable. Whatever specific paths we choose, we are going to bring thousands of well-trained and well-paid people along with us in Minnesota. The clean energy future is a bright one!
Explore the career and training resources from CERTs at https://www.cleanenergyresourceteams.org/careers and see their popular job board at https://www.cleanenergyresourceteams.org/job-board.
About the author: Dan Thiede (pictured left) is the Strategic Communications and Engagement Director with the Clean Energy Resource Teams and is based at the University of Minnesota. Dan has directed communications work for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs in Minnesota since 2007, and was honored to receive a 40 Under 40 award from Midwest Energy News in 2017.
Photo 1: Community solar garden being installed on the roof of Shiloh Temple International Ministries in North Minneapolis | Photo credit: The Power of Minnesota
Photo 2: Students on top of the wind training tower at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Canby | Photo credit: The Power of Minnesota