(This post is also available in Spanish.)

A new report by The Prince’s Trust on the Future of Work uncovered some good news: young people overwhelmingly want to find work solving the world’s biggest challenges, in green jobs, health and social care, and the digital economy. At the same time, employers are looking to hire large numbers of young people with critical skills to power the energy transition we need to bring global emissions under control.

As part of our recently concluded analysis of how to advance Mexico’s energy transition by building critical skills in Mexico’s young people, IYF spoke with employers and industry groups across the range of industries involved in the energy transition: clean energy (solar and wind), electric vehicle production, the fourth industrial revolution (automation, remote sensing, networked production lines), and industrial energy efficiency (reducing the carbon emissions of industrial production by seeking efficiencies in energy use).

While green jobs present an important economic opportunity, they are NOT where we'd expect to find them in a green economy. 

We found a consensus across these four sectors around a core group of critical skills needed to power the energy transition. This overlap in critical skills is attributable to a cross-sectoral dependence upon automation, remote sensing, and networked production processes to achieve economic viability. The core skills needed for the growth of the green economy are problem solving, analyzing data, and recognizing patterns to improve sustainable practices, increase efficiencies, and foresee problems before they occur. 

While green jobs present an important economic opportunity, they are NOT where we’d expect to find them in a green economy. While many are projecting important demand for workers to produce clean energy, IYF has found very few opportunities in clean energy generation. Outside of non-specialized construction, and itinerant opportunities installing specialized equipment, wind and solar farms require very few workers for routine maintenance and operation. Instead, IYF found large volumes of opportunities for young people to re-work or monitor factory production lines to increase energy efficiency and transform the auto industry to make way for electric vehicle production. And yet young people are often being funneled into education and training programs for nonexistent jobs.

We risk preparing thousands of young people for jobs that don’t exist.

When IYF compared the number of job opportunities in two Mexican states with enrollment numbers in education and training programs in clean energy generation, energy efficiency and electric vehicle production we identified important imbalances that will condemn thousands of young people to un and underemployment.

For example, we found only 30 jobs in clean energy generation in the states of Jalisco and Tabasco, compared with 2,789 annual graduates from related education and training programs, resulting in an oversupply of 2,759. The bulk of the jobs in the sector are short lived, in construction and installation, and require little specialized training. This contrasts with 33,439 jobs in energy efficiency in the same states, compared with 7,437 annual graduates, resulting in an undersupply of 26,002 graduates. For electric vehicle production, IYF projects 12,000 jobs annually in the next 5 years in Jalisco, compared with 4,791 annual graduates, resulting in an undersupply of 7,209 graduates.

The skills required to power the energy transition apply to such a broad swath of industries and positions, mastery of these skills can fuel young people’s career trajectories across industries and educational levels.

Based on our findings, IYF recommends that national and state governments seeking to build a workforce to power the energy transition take three important steps:

  1. Align enrollment with labor market demand. Otherwise, we risk preparing thousands of young people for jobs that don’t exist—which is disheartening and wastes young people’s commitment to changing the world—while understaffing positions that make a real difference on climate change. This means getting real about jobs projections from clean energy projects and identifying how jobs change as traditional industries green.
  2. Incorporate the cross-cutting skills to power the energy transition into more education and training offerings. The skills required to power the energy transition apply to such a broad swath of industries and positions, mastery of these skills can fuel young people’s career trajectories across industries and educational levels. We must build these core skills into traditional education programs with increased focus on higher order thinking skills and into vocational training programs with a focus on problem solving, analyzing data, and recognizing patterns. 
  3. Build more bridges between industries critical to the energy transition and education and training providers. Because many of the technologies and thus firms involved in the energy transition have only recently come online at scale, their experience effectively collaborating with the talent supply chain is limited. IYF supports firms and education and training providers working together to ensure that talent supply meets demand.

We must support local and national governments, education and training providers, and firms to build the workforce we need to power the energy transition. We owe it to young people to build the bridges needed to align enrollment with demand, develop higher order thinking skills in a technical context, and lay the groundwork for ongoing, action-oriented dialog between firms and education and training providers.

Liz Vance is IYF's Program Director, Systems Change for Workforce Development.