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Hiring for the Impending Green Jobs Labor Shortage

Organizations that integrate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) principles into their hiring strategies are going to be the winners in the race to recruit top talent in a green jobs labor shortage.

New and existing wind farms will likely be affected by the green jobs labor shortage
Photo credit: Dan Meyers

The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act held true to the Biden Administration’s promise to push for a greener economy, earmarking hundreds of billions of dollars for funding, programs, and incentives to support the clean energy transition. Yay! Everyone loves money! The growth was visible almost immediately, with both LinkedIn and the Department of Energy reporting an increase in green and renewable energy job vacancies in 2022. But where were the job applicants?


A Possible Green Jobs Labor Shortage


Skilled green labor has been growing at a much slower pace, raising concerns about a labor shortage in the near future. There are good reasons for this. The jobs are new and the training may not exist yet or take a longer time to complete—leaving employers searching for employees who don’t exist yet. New entrants to the labor market may not know about these jobs or may not know how to pursue them. An ongoing worker shortage is also still plaguing the U.S., especially in sectors like construction that will be building—literally—the energy transition’s infrastructure.


In a situation of labor scarcity, a good pipeline is a major competitive advantage. Broadening your pipeline so that you’re reaching everyone who is qualified will put you ahead of your competitors. And making sure everyone you hire feels welcome can increase retention and employee satisfaction. While organizations are rushing to fill the labor gap in any way possible, those savvy enough to integrate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) into their recruiting strategies will come out as the winners when the race is over.


DEI is a complex and ever-evolving concept, and no single article will ever cover all the nuances (and if someone is claiming that…they probably also have some snake oil for sale in the back). It’s important to implement DEI in a way that’s tailored to your specific organization and sector, with buy-in and commitment up through the very top.

While some are asking if DEI is dead, Cascade Strategies cautions against that mindset. And in a green labor shortage scenario, the organizations that are actively pushing to increase the diversity of their labor pool will ultimately have more talent to choose from, scoring them a win for DEI and competitive recruitment.


Green jobs are a big topic, and so is DEI. This article focuses narrowly on three small but mighty ways companies can bolster their recruiting efforts quickly to the benefit of both. Specifically, it looks at the initial steps in the recruitment process, and does not delve into deeper strategies, like ways to assess applications from nontraditional backgrounds. That is a topic for another day! So here goes:


1. Post all open jobs publicly—even if you already have a candidate in mind.


As many as 70% of all jobs are never posted publicly. If an organization relies on its immediate professional network for recruitment, then it’s automatically excluding anyone who might be qualified but doesn’t have a direct connection to the organization. One of the best ways to alleviate this issue is also the most obvious: post all open jobs publicly—even if you already have a candidate in mind.


Posting a job publicly attracts additional candidates that were not in the hiring manager or recruiters’ network before. And no loss if there’s already a candidate in mind for this position—they can flag the top-scoring applicants, expanding the network of skilled talent to draw from in the future.


2. Close the gaps in the organization’s referral network.


According to the same study, 80% of all available jobs are filled through personal and professional connections. This means that new talent is primarily coming into the organization through the networks and affiliations of the organization’s current talent, ranging from how job openings are disseminated (see above) to the weight organizations give to internal referrals. In other words: new hires will be limited by the scope of the existing organization’s size and diversity.


One way to address this: look internally to identify the academic and professional networks and affiliations current employees are connected to, and which are being missed. This process doesn’t have to be an intensive, academically-rigorous, years-long research project. Simply send an informal survey around asking employees to list the organizations they go to when posting job openings or recruiting new talent. It might not be completely comprehensive, but it’s a quick way to get a rough idea about blind spots in the organization’s referral pipeline.


What does this look like in practice? Say your survey comes back, and you find that the team is active in the National Society of Professional Engineers. Are they also active in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, or the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers? If not, this is an opportunity to engage with hiring managers and recruiters, making sure they send job listings to those organizations as well. Even better is when members of your organization have the time and encouragement to engage with those organizations over the long term to build recognition and trust.


Also check to see how referrals are weighted in the hiring process: they shouldn’t be valued so highly that they outweigh all other considerations. This often happens where there isn’t a formal policy around referrals and hiring managers unintentionally give more weight to them than they realize.


3. Invest in your interns, apprentices, and volunteers.


Future employees begin building their professional networks early – in high school or college and through internships, apprenticeships, and volunteer opportunities.


High quality, well paid apprenticeships and internships with meaningful on-the-job learning can be transformational. By contrast, unpaid or low-paying internships and apprenticeships favor students who can forgo income elsewhere, and have enough savings or family support to provide housing and living expenses. Similarly, if volunteer programs are not easily accessible or if they require too much time away from an alternate paid position, the pool of volunteers will be limited.


One way to address this: create well-structured apprenticeships and internships that pay living wages based on location. On top of the wages and a meaningful educational experience, if you can add perks like free lunch or a stipend, you’ve all but guaranteed a robust candidate pipeline—one that is both diverse and competitive. But don’t forget: you want the pipeline to lead into the organization. Make sure there’s a clear path for apprentices, interns, and volunteers to become full-time employees.


The Bottom Line


Experts are pointing to a potential green jobs labor shortage, where companies will be fighting for talent. Organizations have already started ramping up recruitment efforts by increasing salaries, perks, and benefits; sponsoring skills training and retraining; and offering various certification programs. We believe the companies that integrate DEI will develop an advantage in this environment (pun intended!), gaining access to larger talent pools, attracting more competitive talent, and increasing retention. Not to mention–it’s simply the right thing to do.


Cascade Strategies can help you plan for the green future, from understanding how new policy will affect your business to securing federal funding. Sign up here so you don't miss any of our publications and reach out if you'd like to discuss how we can help you.

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