Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) In a push to launch a new training program for young mothers in the clean-energy field, a new coalition will enjoy the support of federal funding and a number of federal agencies as it connects with local employers to diversify the workforce.

The new Missoula Community Clean Energy Coalition was created last December and has received two rounds of federal funding, which will help hire a coordinator at the Missoula Economic Partnership to grow the program.

Missoula was also one of 16 cities nationally accepted into a program with the Department of Labor to create a workforce training program for women in the growing clean energy industry.

“If we're going to meet our climate goals, we need to electrify everything,” said Caroline Bean, the county's climate action coordinator. “We don't have anywhere near the workforce needed to do this work. We don't have the electricians, plumbers, contractors or solar installers. There's just a shortage in this field.”

Those within the coalition said the clean energy industry has long been dominated by men. But armed with federal support and federal funding, the new workforce training program represents an opportunity to diversify the field.

It's also a chance to fill jobs in an industry that may be growing faster than it can find skilled employees, according to Annie Gorski, the assistant director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.

“One of the things we're looking forward to is learning from the other cities that are part of this coalition – cities that have very similar goals,” said Gorski, who named Tempe, Lansing and Santa Fe. “Many are undertaking similar climate goals and equity work.”

To develop the program, the coalition has partnered with Mountain Home Montana, a local organization that provides shelter and support for single young mothers. With a partner at their side, the coalition started meeting with clean energy employers and other trades to understand their needs.

They also looked to their target demographic and found that young mothers have special needs of their own.

“If you want an equitable workforce, you need to be sure you have the social services there to support the workforce,” said Bean. “We need to think about childcare, housing and transportation. If a mom is trying to balance childcare and starting a new job, she's not going to be able to enter the workforce, no matter the economic opportunity.”

With Mountain Home as a key partner, many of those hurdles can be addressed early on. The organization can provide the wrap-around services young women may need to complete an apprenticeship and launch a new career.

That includes childcare, transportation and emotional support.

“We really started to understand what sort of barriers these moms might be facing that would really impact their ability to work within these fields,” said Shanti Devins, the program director at Climate Smart Missoula. “We have a lot of learning to do. But if we can build a program that reduces barriers, it makes it more equitable for everyone.”

A Missoula delegation recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to launch a job-training program for young mothers.
A Missoula delegation recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to launch a job-training program for young mothers in the field of clean energy. (Courtesy photo)

According to the International Energy Agency, clean energy now represents 50% of the total number of jobs in the energy sector. If the world is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, it will need to create 14 million new jobs in the clean energy field.

The Department of Energy also found that 3 million jobs in the U.S. energy field are now dedicated to reducing emissions. Among them, jobs in the electric vehicle industry increased by 26% in 2021, while jobs in solar increased by 5.4%. Jobs in the wind industry grew by 2.9% while work to increase energy efficiency in general grew by 2.7%.

To help meet those needs and address emerging technologies, the coalition hopes to partner with Missoula College and local employers to launch apprenticeship programs across a range of clean-energy fields. This fall, the group will convene a summit with green energy employers to begin building out a training program.

They'll also begin reaching out to schools and different organizations to promote the new opportunities.

“One of the things we'll do is try to identify folks who may be interested in the trades. There are some different pathways to diversify that,” said Amy Cilimburg with Climate Smart Missoula. “It could be women. It could be BIPOC. We've planted a bunch of seeds and we're starting to see sprouts.”