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Finding a path for younger generations in the energy sector

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By Nevin Alija

· 4 min read

Hand in hand with important shifts in the global economy, the energy sector has seen many challenges and opportunities from dangers to energy security and geopolitical turmoils to unprecedented support for transition to clean energy sources. The growing role of renewable energy will inevitably transform the future job market, creating new opportunities, and shaping the skills and education needed for success. Despite these changes, many reports relate that the workforce in the energy sector is aging and not diverse enough. The question arises of how to make the energy sector appealing to younger generations.

The current state of the workforce

In 2022, 3% of the total formal employment worldwide – around 67 million people – was in the energy and related sectors. Clean energy jobs have surpassed fossil fuel-related employment. (World Energy Employment 2023, IEA). From a technology perspective, solar photovoltaic (PV), bioenergy, and hydropower account for most of the high demand for employment.

A limited number of countries are driving this growth, such as China, Brazil, India and the EU member states, which are the leaders in equipment manufacturing, engineering, and varied services.

What will the future employment be in the energy sector?

By 2030 and 2050, renewable energy jobs are expected to reach respectively 30 and 42 million, based on IRENA’s Transforming Energy Scenario. At European Union level the growth of the hydrogen industry, incentivised by EU policy and strategy, is expected to create around 1 million highly skilled jobs by 2030 and up to 5.4 million by 2050 (Green Skills for Hydrogen).

While the demand for labor is important, the quality of the jobs is also very relevant. To transition from a fossil fuel-dominated energy sector to a cleaner energy future, workers and communities must be treated fairly and equally.

There is also an aspiration to create a different society for younger generations. According to young people, climate change, unemployment, and healthcare are their three most pressing concerns. Younger people are more likely to view climate change as an emergency.

Recruiting and retaining employees: how do you do it?

The need for a just energy transition has been acknowledged around the world. A number of countries, such as South Africa and Spain, are taking advantage of this unique opportunity to generate jobs and income, promote social justice, restore natural capital, and decrease environmental impacts.

In the renewable energy sector, IRENA provides a list of key steps to ensure a just and job-rich transition to clean energy, and emphasizes the need for workforce training and education initiatives to equip workers with the necessary skills.

The Spanish Just Energy Transition (ITJ) is a good example of re-skilling program implementation. In the north of the country, a mining and coal power plant job bank was developed to give workers the opportunity to improve their employability through personalised advice.

In 2023, around 50% of job bank-registered workers associated to power plants under decommissioning have received training offers for the installation of renewable energy plants. In addition, the ITJ is working on a re-skilling program for unemployed people in green occupations in the identified Just Transition areas of the country.

Young people in the energy sector

As half of the world’s population, young people’s contributions, ideas, and creativity play a critical role in fostering positive change both within and beyond their local communities.

The European Youth Energy Forum, however, identifies some important obstacles preventing the upcoming generation from actively participating in the energy transition such as:

  • Ageism & ‘youthwashing’
  • Lack of information
  • Barriers to inclusive participation
  • Lack of opportunities
  • Distrust and miscommunication

The issue of young people being excluded from the energy sector is a global issue. A Brunel survey (Energy Outlook 2022 Report) found that young workers aged between 25 and 29 were 25 per cent more likely to want to leave the energy industry than their older colleagues.

How can a just and inclusive energy transition be promoted?

Expanding clean energy components in basic educational programs and supporting youth-led initiatives with funding, enabling policies, and data is essential. Specifically, the European Youth Energy Forum proposes creating a standard to measure and assess youth engagement in shaping energy policy and making energy decisions.

According to the UNFCCC, making clear career paths and training resources, as well as providing mentoring programs and support systems to develop green careers, is another critical component of engaging youth in the energy transition. Some initiatives are emerging at the local, regional, and global levels, such as Student Energy.

Collaboration between public entities and educational institutions is crucial to funding education, raising awareness, and providing the necessary training. Finally, promoting diversity and inclusion, engaging with young people at early phases of their education, and fostering transparent corporate communication are vital components.

This article is also published on the European Commission website. Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Nevin Alija is one of the co-founders of Mulheres na Energia Portugal and a member of the UNDP External Advisory Group for Energy Governance. Since March 2023, she has been a member of the World Energy Council’s Global Future Energy Leaders Programme.  As of January 2024, she has been selected as a European Climate Pact Ambassador showcasing her commitment to sustainable energy transition and empowerment.

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