American Money: The Energy Sector Can’t Grow Without You

Will minorities get left behind as this industry moves forward?

Posted: 08/05/2013 03:32 PM EDT

Although growth in the energy sector continues to drive our economy forward, experts are concerned minorities might get left behind.

Earlier this year, the American Association of Blacks in Energy’s (AABE) Energy Policy Summit focused its discussions around increasing minority participation in the energy sector. While 40 percent of energy consumers are non-white, minority workers are still largely underrepresented in the industry, with very little corporate representation at the top.

One example of this disparity is in the solar industry, a growing source of job creation in the U.S. Data shows job growth in this field is six times the growth rate of the overall job market. Unfortunately women and people of color are not well represented in this growth. This may be because of chosen majors. While the aforementioned groups make up 70 percent of college students, they only make up 45 percent of undergraduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) — the degrees that drive the solar industry. 

The U.S. Energy Department is trying to close the gap with several programs that train and mentor minorities studying STEM fields, including a research program that helps fund development of affordable, solar technologies. The department also lists links to clean energy job databases you can search.

Wide disparities still exist in the traditional energy sector as well. A report released by the American Petroleum Institute late last year showed that minority hiring will be essential to meet the demands of the oil and natural gas industry’s projected growth. Yet the study also observed that minority communities, particularly African-Americans, still don’t know much about the sector or its opportunities.

Of the expected 525,000 jobs in this field to be created by 2020, almost a third — 166,000 — could be held by African-Americans and Hispanic workers if the right hiring policies were in place. A sizeable portion of the jobs offered would also be at the managerial level, requiring a college degree.

However, not all jobs in the energy sector require a college degree. Plenty of green collar jobs and traditional energy sector jobs are vocational/skilled, including process managers, collectors, recycling center attendants, construction workers for green buildings, and green electricians and plumbers. Over half the expected energy sector jobs of 2020 would be high-paying skilled and semi-skilled blue collar positions such as carpenters, welders and mechanics.

A growing energy sector is the way of the future, so it is important to be informed of all available options in this industry, especially when unemployment is still unacceptably high. White collar, middle class jobs took a huge hit during the Great Recession, so any sector with fast-paced growth offering higher-wage opportunities is worth a second look.

Dedrick Asante- Muhammad is the senior director of the NAACP Economic Programs. To learn more about preventing foreclosure and personal finance, check out the NAACP Financial Freedom Center Facebook Page or on Twitter @naacpecon.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks. 

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(Photo: Jeff Fusco/Getty Images)

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