Central New Mexico Community College students work during a photovoltaics class last year. Clean energy and economy experts on Thursday discussed renewable technology jobs and offered solutions on how to diversify them going forward. (Jim Thompson/Journal)
The clean energy industry is gaining traction in the state and experts say attracting new talent – even those with just high school diplomas – may be the key to sustaining that growth.
The central New Mexico region has seen job growth of 21% in renewable energy industries in the last five years, outpacing the national rate of 7%, Albuquerque Regional Economic Alliance vice president of economic competitiveness Chad Matheson said.
But making sure the supply of workers keeps up with the demand will require clean energy stakeholders to find new solutions, increase outreach and debunk misinformation about the growing industry, said Gabe Sanchez, a professor with the University of New Mexico’s Department of Political Science and executive director for the university’s Center for Social Policy.
“We can meet folks where they are at,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez presented his findings on Thursday at AREA’s Regional Innovation Series, citing a June 2020 Department of Workforce Solutions study on clean energy workforce development that he collaborated on with the state and other stakeholders.
The study, put together with surveys from about 2,500 participants and utilizing regional and national data, shows that New Mexico is in a prime spot for extreme growth in wind and solar energies.
Array Technologies chief human resources officer Jennifer Cheraso said matching jobs with the growth of the industry can start at the high school level, partnering with institutions that offer trade programs. That can extend post-graduation, too, by offering training to students not interested in attending college.
“I think this is one area we need to work on,” Cheraso said. “It’s just a matter of making those partnerships and having the resources to go sponsor those types of things.”
Likewise, that means creating training programs in rural areas.
Ganesh Balakrishnan, a professor with UNM’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the New Mexico Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, said “opportunities fly over” job seekers in less densely populated areas of the state.
“The right infusion of funding from the federal and state government can be a huge catalyst in getting things going,” Balakrishnan said.
But diversifying the workforce and attracting more people to the industry is easier said than done in practice, Balakrishnan said, adding that the industry is currently “siloed.”
“We have everything we need to succeed,” he said. “There’s a massive amount of intellectual property, and there’s a massive number of scientists in town. High-quality students are coming out of all the universities. … We need to figure out a way to connect these things.”