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Steve Engler

Steve Engler

When President Joe Biden said he wanted to create good-paying American jobs in clean energy as one of his first executive orders, I didn’t see a pathway that would train these workers on the required timeframe to rapidly transition the energy sector.

The federal government will not do this fast enough. This challenge demands a private sector solution that leverages online learning, which has rapidly expanded during the pandemic. That is why I’m building Emerald Energy, and I want to start in West Virginia.

This sector is booming. There are around 3 million workers in the clean energy industry in the U.S. across all job functions, but this is expected to grow by 105% in the solar sector and 96% in the wind sectors — the top two fastest growing sectors in the country — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the HVAC space, which includes heat pumps (a more efficient technology to heat and cool homes), there is a 15% mismatch between demand and supply for technicians, according to Lennox. At the same time, the number of coal mining jobs has halved since 2011.

This moment presents a unique opportunity to retrain existing energy workers and create new high-wage jobs that can’t be outsourced, all while America becomes the global leader in this industry.

There is a unique need and opportunity to bring economic activity to Appalachia. The share of rural Appalachian residents living in poverty is 5% higher than in other rural regions, and this gap is even wider among children—about 7%. In terms of education, 84.2% of people in rural Appalachia have a high school degree, as compared to 88.5% in other rural areas. That divide only increases when looking at adults with college degrees.

Appalachia is also less poised to benefit from a solution that relies on online learning, as the percentage without access to broadband internet—or to any internet at all—is 5% lower than in other rural areas, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission.

The economic benefits are real. Solar and wind jobs pay $25.21 per hour on average, and HVAC technicians make $24.57 per hour on average, 28-32% more than the median national hourly wage of $19.14.

In spending, Rewiring America recently published a fact sheet showing that congressional infrastructure benefits would help 99% of West Virginia households save money, 45% of which are low and medium income.

At the same time, online education has exploded over the past decade, accelerating further during the pandemic.

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This unique moment calls for a bold solution in the clean energy workforce development space that provides an education platform to train people in clean energy skills then gets them jobs. This resource will have the following features:

n Ability to research career pathways and needs based on the hiring trends in your area.

n Career tracks in heat pumps, electric vehicles, wind and solar power.

n A desktop and mobile learning platforms with in-person sessions for hands-on training components, in accessible locations like community colleges.

n Job placement with local employers.

We are speaking with the United Mine Workers of America Career Centers about creating a program to retrain laid off dislocated miners in West Virginia for careers in heat pumps. The program would aim to accomplish the following:

n Train 50 workers in rural Appalachia over a 10-week period on heat pump basics using online learning with two weeks of hands-on training for key components.

n Ensure students have a convenient place to use a computer and broadband internet access.

n Arrange 10-week internships with HVAC contractors near where the workers live after completing the program, leading to full-time jobs.

Sign our petition to get this program funded in West Virginia.

Steve Engler is the founder and CEO of Emerald Energy, a New York-based operation which is using online education to get Americans clean energy jobs.

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