The Energy Transition Workforce Initiative

Author: David Foster


The energy transition underway in the United States presents a unique set of opportunities to put Americans back to work through the deployment of new technologies, infrastructure, energy efficiency, and expansion of the electricity system to meet our carbon goals. Unlike many previous industrial transitions, the U.S. can directly influence the pace of change and create new jobs while old ones are phasing out. The next administration should launch the Energy Transition Workforce Initiative to put Americans back to work with well-paying, union jobs building a stronger, more climate-resilient nation.

The Energy Transition Workforce Initiative proposes a collection of actions that the incoming administration could enact on Day One and through the Administration’s first year. This set of actions largely tracks the following three principles:

  1. Utilize carbon-reduction investments - such as energy efficiency upgrades, infrastructure investments and electrification technologies - as economic development tools in under-served communities and those impacted by the loss of fossil-fuel jobs.

  2. Expand our existing energy workforce training system to respond to all communities experiencing dislocations and high levels of unemployment, while also providing opportunity and training for the additional employees necessary to complete the energy transition.

  3. Allocate $20 billion over the next decade specifically to retrain the existing energy workforce with a focus on their impacted communities.

With success, the Energy Transition Workforce Initiative will ensure that the U.S. captures all the opportunities presented by the energy transition for the middle and working class.

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About the Author

Photo of Dr. Geoffrey Ling

David Foster is currently a Visiting Scholar at MIT and previously served as Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz from 2014-2017 on energy, environmental, climate, economic development, workforce development and labor relations issues. During that period, he designed and implemented the creation of the Department of Energy’s Jobs Strategy Council, an initiative that linked the department’s technical and financial resources to a wide group of external stakeholders including state and local governments, private sector energy and manufacturing businesses, non-profits, academic institutions, and labor unions. He led the interagency effort to create the Energy and Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Initiative, which formally linked the Department of Energy with the Departments of Labor, Education, Commerce, Defense, and the National Science Foundation on workforce development issues.

Prior to working at the Department of Energy, Foster served as the founding Executive Director of the BlueGreen Alliance (BGA), a strategic partnership of 14 of America’s most important unions and environmental organizations with a combined membership of 14.5 million. The BlueGreen Alliance is the country’s foremost labor/environmental advocacy group on climate change policy solutions with a special emphasis on energy intensive industries, job creation, and the interchange between global warming and trade policy. Foster has spoken extensively on the subjects of climate change, economic development and the transition to a low carbon economy around the world, including the United Nations Environment Program Ministerial in Nairobi, Kenya, multiple UNFCCC events, and the German Green Party National Convention. He has testified before the U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament on the linkage between jobs and climate change solutions.