The future of the energy workforce
Sade Nabahe is a TPP student and MIT alum (MechE ’17) working with the MIT Roosevelt Project, an effort within the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR). The Roosevelt Project explores pathways to decarbonization that minimize negative impacts on the economy and workers in the energy sector. Nabahe shares her experiences interning in Senator Tina Smith’s (D-MN) office as an energy workforce policy fellow.
What are you researching at TPP?
A deep decarbonization transition in the United States will have unequally distributed effects, across socio-economic groups, geographies and economic sectors. The goal of the Roosevelt Project is to provide an analytical basis for charting a path to a low carbon economy in a way that promotes high quality job growth, minimizes worker and community dislocation, and harnesses the benefits of energy technologies for regional economic development.
The MIT-Harvard initiative, under the leadership of former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, recently released a series of policy white papers on US energy and climate policy. I co-authored two of the white papers, Energy Workforce Development in the 21st Century (pdf) and Energy and Manufacturing in the United States (pdf) with David Foster, a former senior labor advisor in the Obama administration.
The first paper highlights the current challenges, anticipated changes, and the future of the energy and energy efficiency workforce. Additionally, the paper covers workforce training challenges created by new technologies, the role of big data management, artificial intelligence, the utilization of robotics, the adequacy of existing federal and state job training programs, and how evolving business models might change workforce demands.
The second paper explores how decarbonization of energy production and energy policy might impact manufacturers, particularly in energy intensive, trade-exposed industries, and offers recommendations for the optimal policy environment to spur the manufacturing of new technology in the U.S.
Now that the working papers on the cross-cutting topics related to the transition are published, the next phase of the Roosevelt Project is to develop implementation plans for four specific regions: the Industrial Heartland, Southwestern Pennsylvania, the Gulf Coast, and New Mexico.
As part of the New Mexico case study team, I will work with local partners in those communities to develop transition plans specific to a state with high fossil fuel production, significant national laboratory research potential, and an environment with considerable social dynamics.
Tell us about your summer internship.
This summer, I worked remotely in Senator Tina Smith’s (D-MN) office through the TPP-funded internship program. As an energy workforce policy fellow, I primarily assisted Senator Smith’s energy and environment legislative team in drafting and editing chapters on industrial and electric sector decarbonization for the Senate Special Committee on the Climate Crisis report released in August 2020.
Additionally, I drafted the report’s three-page overview of “Organized Labor Priorities,” which compiles recommendations given to the Committee by unions and other labor organizations on how decarbonization can support stable, high paying jobs that support American workers, their families and communities.
In the remainder of my time, I put together background information and interviewed stakeholder about potential future federal legislation to help address challenges faced by utility host communities when fossil fuel plants close.
This experience gave me insight into the federal legislation process, as well as how a senate office runs. I learned how a senator and staff interact and gather feedback from constituents, respond to unexpected events, develop legislation, and how much work goes on behind the scenes.
Most importantly, I witnessed how Senator Tina Smith led in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, when protests broke out in her home state of Minnesota. It was truly inspiring to see how she created space for tough discussions in her community and demanded action from her fellow senate members during several floor speeches on systemic racism, demonstrating what it is to be a leader in Congress.
How does the internship connect to your current research, and to your future plans?
My work in Senator Smith’s office gave me insight into how communities and workers experience energy transitions by interacting with local government officials and labor organizations. This directly ties into the New Mexico case study research that I am doing as a part of the Roosevelt Project and will allow me to better guide interactions with local stakeholders that are experiencing coal plant closures.
After graduating from TPP in Spring 2021, I plan to continue working with stakeholders across disciplines in order to develop region-specific decarbonization plans as part of a federal government agency, or at the local and state government level, making sure that typically overlooked workers and communities are included in the decision-making process.