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How to Ensure Oil Workers Get Access to Clean Energy Jobs

As the world transitions away from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives, we are inevitably seeing cuts in oil and gas jobs around the globe. Meanwhile, the number of renewable energy jobs is increasing in line with capacity expansion. Many of those who have worked in oil and gas are ideal candidates for the clean energy sector as they have extensive experience working in energy, as well as the skills needed to support operations. Therefore, governments and the private energy sector must introduce mechanisms to make it easier for workers to switch fields and support green energy sector growth. Further, governments worldwide must consider possible ways to overcome the geographical barriers involved with the shift from fossil fuels to renewables.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many oil and gas companies were forced to lay off workers due to the dramatic decrease in energy demand worldwide. However, as the global energy demand has risen to record highs, many companies hired back their workers. Nevertheless, the global shift away from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives has meant that there are fewer jobs in oil and gas than there once were, leaving many workers without a position to return to. Yet, there are more jobs in the energy sector today than there were in 2019, largely due to the notable growth in clean energy, a sector that now employs more workers than fossil fuels.
According to the IEA, energy employment reached nearly 67 million in 2022 – growing by 3.4 million over pre-pandemic levels. While clean energy sectors added 4.7 million jobs between 2019 and 2022, to total 35 million, the number of fossil fuel jobs has been slow to recover following the pandemic, meaning that by 2022 it remained around 1.3 million lower than pre-pandemic employment, at 32 million. Most of the job growth was seen in solar PV, wind, electric vehicles (EVs) and battery manufacturing, heat pumps and critical minerals mining, which together employ around 9 million workers, with the solar PV sector accounting for around 4 million jobs alone. In addition to operational jobs, huge growth has been seen in construction and manufacturing, contributing around half of the jobs in the clean energy sector.
While the number of clean energy jobs is growing, companies worldwide cite skilled labour shortages as a major barrier to increasing capacity, according to an IEA survey carried out with 160 energy firms worldwide. The report showed that the number of workers enrolling in degrees or certifications relevant to energy sector jobs is far below the growing demand. The IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol explained, “The unprecedented acceleration that we have seen in clean energy transitions is creating millions of new job opportunities all over the world – but these are not being filled quickly enough. Birol added, “Governments, industry and educational institutions need to put in place programmes to deliver the expertise needed in the energy sector to keep pace with growing demand, particularly to manufacture and build the clean energy projects necessary to meet our energy and climate goals.”
In the U.K., North Sea oil and gas jobs fell by 28 percent between 2015 and 2022, from 38,100 to 27,600, while the number of clean energy jobs increased by 29 percent, to 26,600, showing a clear shift in opportunities. Clean energy jobs are on the rise even though the ruling Conservative Party has slashed support for onshore wind and solar power. Jonathan Noronha-Gant, a senior campaigner at Global Witness, believes “Instead of flogging this very dead horse, the government needs to face up to reality and give its full backing to the renewable energy industries, and ensure the creation of well-paid jobs within that sector, with good conditions for UK workers… This would both improve energy security and reduce emissions.”
Meanwhile, in the U.S., clean energy jobs are increasing but they are heavily dependent on geography. A 2023 report published by the journal Nature Communications suggested that while many workers had the skills needed to transition from the fossil fuel industry to the clean energy sector, geography was a major barrier. The publication analysed 14 years of fossil fuel employment and skills data and found that many workers would have to relocate to work in clean energy, as new renewable energy regions are emerging in less conventional areas of the U.S. The report states that without careful planning and targeted policies, it is estimated that only about 2% of fossil fuel workers involved in extraction are likely to transition to green jobs this decade.
While the number of fossil fuel jobs has fallen and continues to fall, opportunities in clean energy are increasing. The global green transition is resulting in a shift in energy jobs. There is huge potential to introduce mechanisms to support the transition of workers from the fossil fuel industry to the clean energy sector through government and private sector support. However, barriers, such as geography, continue to stand in the way of the shift, meaning that more needs to be done to ensure that oil workers are not left unemployed and clean energy companies can find the talent needed to accelerate the energy capacity increase needed to fuel a green transition.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
Jul 2, 2024 07:12
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