Preparing Workers for the Green Economy

Opportunities and Challenges for an Emerging Labor Market

Older man instructing young women re solar system installation

The transition to clean energy in the United States promises to create millions of new jobs over the coming decade. Research suggests clean energy technologies could create up to six million new jobs by 2035. The ability to rapidly grow the green workforce could have significant consequences—not just for American competitiveness but for the planet, as institutions worldwide allocate substantial funding to combat climate change. The coming demand for green labor also provides a unique opportunity to more equitably include members of marginalized communities who have historically been left out of opportunities for economic advancement and growth.

While the need for workers with green job skills is growing, career and technical education training organizations poised to train those workers are struggling to keep pace with the demand in industries at the heart of the transition—everything from solar and wind power technology to green finance and sustainable fashion. Educational institutions looking to rapidly adjust or expand their curricula face additional barriers. For example, there is a lack of agreement about just which skills green workers will need to meet future demand. At the same time, efforts to recruit students into green job training programs are complicated by the need to promote jobs that have yet to fully materialize. Failure to address these issues could slow public policy efforts to implement fundamental changes to energy use and infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This brief aims to shed light on the complex factors that have both facilitated and hampered efforts to train and hire workers for the green labor market. The MDRC research team conducted a qualitative case study based on interviews with stakeholders involved in green policy, education, training, and employment sectors in the New York metropolitan region. Participants were invited to share their experiences in this critical economic sector as well as their thoughts about the challenges and opportunities that will inform future green jobs initiatives around the country. As such, the case study was designed as an inductive line of inquiry, which is useful for developing ideas and hypotheses from which specific issues and solutions can be developed. Given the newness of the issues identified and the need for rapid change by often slow-moving institutions, this brief also highlights ways policy and practice communities can develop solutions in a more timely way.

Document Details

Publication Type
February 2024
Rosen, Rachel, Sabrina Klein, and Erika B. Lewy. 2024. “Preparing Workers for the Green Economy.” New York: MDRC.