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People, Workforce, and the Clean Energy Transition

To drive climate action and sustainable development throughout the Global South, we must build the skills and know-how of millions of people around the world. Our answer: the Energy Transition Academy.

Over the past few decades, the international climate action community has put a great deal of focus on building political will and securing financial commitments — and for good reason. Without decision makers and leaders who are well-informed, bought-in, and ready to act, there is little work we can do to implement the sweeping systemic changes demanded by the climate crisis. And, of course, finance is needed to pay for that work.

There has also been a lot of investment in building the capacity of the institutions and people who do that work: everybody from policymakers to pipefitters, all over the world. Nevertheless, it’s increasingly clear that the climate action community must dramatically expand its focus on capacity development — investing in the skills and know-how of the people and institutions who do the work.

More and more, the rate-limiter on climate action isn’t political will or finance, it’s people. We have most of the technology we need, as well as the policy and business models. But we don’t have nearly enough people with the right skills and know-how to do the work enabled by all of this, particularly in the Global South. That is why RMI started the Energy Transition Academy.

The Climate Action Workforce Gap Is Massive

An IEA report released last month illustrates the massive scale of the workforce gap holding us back. Between newly created jobs and retrained and transitioned ones, we need 30 million clean energy jobs this decade to achieve net-zero by 2050. And 60 percent of these jobs will require some amount of training.

The IEA also estimates that for Africa to achieve universal energy access by 2030, an estimated 1.8 million energy sector jobs will need to be created. About 700,000 of those will be in the minigrid sector, while another 400,000 will focus on small-scale distributed energy access solutions.

In these projections, we begin to see the scale of the challenge ahead. We’re not talking about a shortfall of hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of clean energy practitioners. Just to get on track in driving climate action and sustainable development, we need to build the skills and know-how of millions of people all over the world. And it cannot wait.

Scaling Solutions to Workforce and Capacity Development

It is time to put everything we have toward getting the clean energy transition done, something we call radical implementation. But we simply cannot implement climate solutions at scale without a similarly scaled investment in the development of local institutional capacity, workforce, and people.

And if we fail to do so? We will have missed the opportunity to make good on all the political will, alignment and deployment of finance, and technological and business model innovation of the past decades.

What are we going to do about this? How will international and local partners foster a global decarbonization workforce that can make good on all the progress we’ve made? And how can we do so as fast as possible?

We’re Building the Energy Transition Academy

At RMI, we’re increasingly obsessed with these questions. And we’re focused on developing scalable solutions to the challenge of workforce and capacity development, solutions that help clean energy transition practitioners — especially those in the Global South — get the work done.

Among our answers is the Energy Transition Academy, a new programmatic platform that synthesizes much of what we’ve learned over the decades and insights from hundreds of interviews with users and partner organizations in the Global South.

The good news is that training and reskilling huge numbers of professionals isn’t unique to the industries and sectors on the frontlines of the climate crisis. We are leveraging lessons learned from other industries that have scaled their own workforce development efforts.

Working hand in glove with our global and local partners, the Energy Transition Academy takes the best expertise on the clean energy transition and climate action — as well as smart practice in hands-on, in-person experiential learning and technical assistance — and blends it with cutting-edge tools in scalable, online skill-development. It offers energy practitioners a dynamic, flexible suite of online and in-person skills and network development tools to build their know-how, grow their community, and drive their action. So far, the Energy Transition Academy is doing this through four flexible, integrated pillars of activity:

Community and Experience Exchange: A portfolio of offerings for practitioners to build and share experience with real-time projects and decision-making in peer settings, like Fellowships, boot camps, study tours, and communities of practice.

Skills and Targeted Learning: Action-oriented skills-development products that support practitioners as they enhance their skills and know-how, including interactive workplans and how-to guides and project-oriented professional development courses.

Advisory Services and Peer Support: Technical assistance, coaching, mentorship, and no-cost consulting services from the world’s leading experts to help practitioners advance and complete their climate and energy initiatives.

Collaborative Solutions and Leadership: Collaborative design and problem-solving events for energy leaders to drive innovation, benefit from peer connection, and increase confidence in making informed and bold climate action decisions.

Although each of these pillars and the programs within them can stand on their own, we strategically interlink them to enable and encourage ongoing, dynamic skills development and support as practitioners’ needs evolve.

Different people learn in different ways. And diverse needs call for diverse solutions. The Energy Transition Academy is designed to offer a variety of forms of skills development and professional support, and to meet practitioners where they are as their needs evolve. And we’re laser-focused on the user’s needs and giving them as much value as possible. In many respects, we’re approaching the Energy Transition Academy less as a nonprofit program, and more as a customer-focused, scalable online product.

The Need for Bold Partnerships

Can the Energy Transition Academy address the full scale of the climate action workforce challenge in the Global South? No, of course not. But the international climate action community must recognize that business as usual is not getting us where we need to be. And we need to boldly collaborate to develop and deliver solutions that are right sized to this truly huge challenge. We believe that the Energy Transition Academy is a step in the right direction, and it’s one we hope our partners will take with us.

Capacity development — investment in the skills and know-how of local partners and practitioners — has quietly been the workhorse of climate action for a long time. It may not be sexy. It may not get the headlines. But it gets the job done. It’s time for the international climate action community to reappraise exactly how valuable capacity development is, and boldly and ambitiously invest in what works. At RMI, we are. We hope you’ll join us.