Stefanie Auld first noticed the trend just before COVID-19 hit in early 2020.
That February, Auld, who helps oversee hiring for the Los Angeles-based green energy company Avantus, was at a conference in Austin, Texas for women who worked in renewable energy. She’d volunteered to conduct mock interviews and resume coaching, assuming she’d largely be helping others in clean energy who wanted to change positions or companies. Instead, she said, almost every woman who approached her was working in conventional energy but seeking advice on pivoting to a job in the renewables sector.
It’s a trend that’s only expected to increase.
With new local, state, federal and international mandates aimed at reducing carbon emissions, latest Department of Energy records show fossil fuel sectors continued to post job losses even as the pandemic eased. Petroleum lost 31,593 jobs from 2020 to 2021, for a 6.4% drop, while coal jobs dropped by 11.8%.
At the same time, the energy sector overall grew faster than the national workforce. And all renewable energy divisions added jobs that year, with careers in geothermal, hydro, wind and solar power all up between 2.8% to 5.4%.
Josh Harding, left, Nathan Lee and Kathy Gleeson all have pivoted in recent years from careers in oil and gas to careers in renewable energy. (Harding photo courtesy of him; Lee photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG; Gleeson photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
When the next national energy jobs report comes out this summer, experts expect to see even bigger jumps in renewable sectors for 2022. That’s thanks largely to Congress last summer passing the Inflation Reduction Act, which dedicated $369 billion to fighting climate change.
In the first six months after the bill passed, clean energy companies announced 101,036 new jobs in 31 states, according to a February analysis by the nonprofit group Climate Power. And over the next decade, public and private investments stemming from the funding package are expected to create roughly 912,000 jobs per year, or some 9 million by 2030, according to a study out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Not all of that funding is a lock, though. As negotiations over the federal debt limit carry on, Republican lawmakers are pushing back on tax provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that favor clean energy projects.
But Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, who worked to bring green jobs to Southern California before he got elected, argues that tax provisions for renewables make sense for the environment and the economy. Levin cited research from the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator that says every $1 million in spending on renewable energy creates 7.5 full-time jobs, nearly three times higher than the 2.7 jobs produced by the same investments in fossil fuels.
“And in terms of the subsidies that are provided, or the tax policies that are beneficial for renewables, I would just point to the incredibly generous tax policies and subsidies that have gone to the fossil fuel industry for decades,” he said.
“We’re just looking for a level playing field.”
Even before such funding and worker predictions came out, Auld said she rarely heard concerns about job security or stability from workers looking to pivot from conventional to renewable energy. Instead, she said she more often gets questions about how salaries compare, what skills transfer and how folks already working in clean energy might perceive those coming from fossil fuel sectors.
Since renewable energy is still a relatively new field, Auld noted people often come in with experience working in different energy sectors. Avantus has maybe five or six people who came directly from conventional energy, she said. But she suspects a majority of the roughly 200 people on their team have some background in fossil fuels.
“We’re all trying for the same goal, which is to provide enough energy to the world and to have it be stable and reliable and safe,” she said.
In terms of skills transfer, Auld said there is a good deal of overlap between conventional and renewable energy. Companies like hers often provide on-the-job training to close any gaps. And since renewable companies compete with conventional energy companies for talent, Auld said they do studies to make sure salaries are comparable.
As this trend accelerates, we spoke with three people who’ve made the jump in recent years from working in oil and gas to working for clean energy companies in Southern California. Here are their stories.
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