This commentary was originally published by the Albany Times-Union.
More than 150,000 people across New York are employed in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency. But the long-term demand for skilled workers in green energy will be hard to meet.
This year, 53 percent of energy employers in New York reported difficulty filling open positions. And this gap will likely widen when the new federal Inflation Reduction Act gets implemented, which will create millions of new renewable-energy jobs nationwide.
So far, state dollars for workforce training have been targeted to adults already in the labor pool. To more rapidly develop a pipeline of workers for these jobs, a next step could be investing in high school students to eventually enter green industries.
Fortunately, New York has already invested millions in an innovative school-to-career high school model. New York is home to 48 Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools, or P-TECH schools.
P-TECH schools provide specialized education and career training pathways for students where they simultaneously earn their high school diploma and an applied associate’s degree from a partner community college, as well as gain rich career-related learning experiences. A study by MDRC, a nonprofit education and social research organization, has found that the New York City P-TECH students, most of whom are from low-income communities of color, earn more high school credits, pass the state Regents exams more often and with higher scores, and earn more college credits while in high school compared with students who attend other high schools.
While the P-TECH schools have not been around long enough to understand the effects they may have on students’ long-term earnings, similar career and technical education models, such as career academies and regional vocational-technical high schools, do increase earnings for graduates. In fact, career and technical education earnings effects are strongest for those who focus on the fields needed for a transition to a green economy, including construction, transportation, manufacturing, and technology. This evidence lends support to the idea that P-TECH schools could be a useful vehicle to expand training for high school students who want to work in good-paying jobs in clean-energy industries.
Many P-TECH schools in New York already prepare students for careers in green industries, like the Clean Technologies Early College High School in Malta, where students learn skills such as how to do energy audits in residential homes and commercial buildings. Students intern with clean-energy employers and earn degrees in fields like clean-energy management from Hudson Valley Community College. The New York Power Authority also partners with multiple P-TECH schools to provide summer internships focused on clean-energy skills training. But because these schools and programs are small, they can train only a fraction of the students who will be needed in the future.
New York could do more to direct resources for P-TECH schools and their community college partners to support the development of new pathway programs in sustainable-energy fields. Funds could be targeted to existing programs in fields such as construction, HVAC, electrical trades, and agriculture and resource management. Providing incentives to green employers to partner with P-TECH schools, or other evidence-based CTE schools, would create new internships and other work-based learning experiences to attract young people to green careers.
New York has already made substantial investments in its green-energy economy and in P-TECH schools. Tying these two policy priorities together could be a win-win for New York’s clean-energy future and for the young people who will inherit it.
Rachel Rosen is co-director of the MDRC Center for Effective Career and Technical Education.