Ahead of the election, President-Elect Donald Trump made a stand about coal and oil-and-gas jobs, claiming he wanted to bring them back. But more evidence is showing that coal workers can find work—good work and good pay—in the solar and renewable energy industries.
It’s a pressing issue for the country as jobs shift to a newer, faster-growing industry with more potential to grow. The solar industry is hiring workers 12 times faster than the overall economy Early this year it was reported that the solar industry employed 208,859 workers and more recently that the coal industry had 150,000 or fewer jobs. What’s more, one of the greatest opportunities for coal workers is in solar.
Recently Jorge Sardin, now a foreman at a solar farm in California, told Yale Climate Connections that solar has given him four years of steady work in Southern California. “I can surely say that it has helped out not only myself and the people around me. I have seen all the valley grow,” he told Yale Climate Connections. Prior to moving back to California he had worked at a coal preparation plant in Wyoming but was invited by his union to work in solar.
Since then, the organization reported, he’s earned a bachelor’s in engineering degree, which is emblematic of many earn-and-learn incentives and on-the-job-training programs offered by solar companies.
There’s an emerging body of research that shows the possibility of retraining the coal workforce for renewable energy as well. Earlier this year, for instance, Energy Economics published “Retraining investment for U.S. transition from coal to solar photovoltaic employment,” a study by Joshua Pearce, a Michigan Tech professor and Edward Louie, of the School of Public Policy at Oregon State University (OSU). That report showed that “a relatively minor investment in retraining would allow the vast majority of coal workers to switch to PV-related positions even in the event of the elimination of the coal industry.”
"Many of these coal miners have transferable skill sets already,” said Christopher Turek, the director of Solar Energy International, speaking about that report. "These range from mechanical and electrical expertise, all the way to their confidence in working in a highly technical field with a strong focus on safety.”
Also published earlier in 2016 was “The Link Between Good Jobs and a Low Carbon Future,” by the UC Berkeley Labor Center’s Donald Vial Center for Employment in the Green Economy. That report looked at the connection between California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) and the jobs and career paths the renewable energy industry is creating for non-college bound workers.
“What’s unique about California is that the boom in renewables has created quality jobs that lead to real careers,” said Betony Jones, associate chair of the Donald Vial Center and a co-author of the report. “These are not just jobs to get by. Workers on these projects are getting health care, pension contributions, and paid comprehensive training that leads to career stability.”
Among other things that report found that the RPS has helped create 25,500 blue-collar job-years (about 53 million hours of blue-collar construction work) in rural California counties with higher unemployment levels and lower income levels.Tweet