The oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, solar, wind, and geothermal industries all contribute to satisfying the nation’s energy needs, and all are expected to remain pieces in the nation’s energy quilt going forward. Related activities in the area of Carbon capture, use and storage are expected to continue enhancing the production of oil from mature fields, but carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and sequestration is unlikely to become a significant industry without government policies, incentives, and regulations for large reductions in CO2 emissions. The mining industry will continue to provide coal and nonfuel minerals that are necessary for the nation’s well-being.
The present and future are bright for those in or seeking energy and mining jobs. Demand for energy and mining workers at all levels is expected to remain strong for the foreseeable future. The energy and mining industries in the United States are expected to continue to grow and to seek the qualified employees needed to do the work of providing essential energy and mineral resources to the nation. Strong international demand for energy and mineral resources and the workers to provide them also will keep the market for qualified domestic workers robust. Strong current and future demand for qualified energy and mining workers will continue to make the jobs in these industries very high paying, relative to jobs in other industries.
The United States has access to both mineral resources and energy and a workforce to provide them. However, there are workforce challenges that have to be overcome if the nation is to continue to have sufficient access to both. Two significant challenges are common across the energy and mining industries covered in this report—large numbers of pending retirements and a current and increasing need for STEM-capable workers at all levels.
Along with growing demand for energy and mineral resources, the U.S. energy and mining industries are facing a looming retirement bubble, caused by the pending retirement of large numbers of baby-boom workers from the overall domestic workforce. Both factors will continue to drive demand for workers. Baby boomers represent about one-third of the U.S. workforce, they are poised to retire in large numbers within this decade, and there are too few younger workers in the pipeline to replace them.
In addition, the oil and gas workforce is concentrated at the younger and older ends of the age spectrum, creating a gap in experience, training, and maturity between retiring workers and the younger workers that would remain. Because industry leadership typically is older, this gap will make it difficult to fill opening leadership positions. Much of the geothermal workforce parallels that of the oil and gas industry and the mineral exploration industry and it is affected by the same aging and transition as the oil and gas and mining workforces.
The energy and mining industries will need replacement workers with higher levels of education and different skills than their predecessors. A high percentage of energy and mining jobs require some education beyond high school, but the majority do not require a 4-year degree. A strong foundation in STEM skills is needed for many energy and mining jobs, and the need is growing at all levels as STEM principles are increasingly applied in the workplace.
Unfortunately, the existing pipeline is inadequate to provide the needed STEM-capable workers to fill all of the current and expected future jobs. In addressing the shortfalls of the existing education pipeline, the goal would be to create an education system that can respond to changes in the economy more quickly and produce a more flexible, STEM-competent workforce, producing students with multiple skills and levels of skills that would be prepared to adjust more quickly to industry requirements and job availability by moving and advancing on career lattices.
Promising solutions are being pursued, and many will go beyond current educational structures. Community colleges are providing important new pathways for supplying the energy and mining workforce by providing direct alignment among their programs of study, the credentials they bestow, and industry education and skill requirements. Partnerships between 4-year colleges and universities and community colleges to create new pathways for STEM curriculum, with the first 2 years of STEM-related programs of study being offered at the community college and the second 2 years being offered at the university, could expand the capacity of the critical university degree programs.
The national solution being deployed by the U.S. manufacturing industry also could be a beneficial strategy for the energy and mining industries to pursue, in partnership with education and government. Innovative curricula delivered in nontraditional formats and pedagogies (e.g., nonlinear or just-in-time) that embed STEM concepts in contextualized examples (e.g., technology-enabled, skills-
based competency delivery) that are rigorous and industry-recognized would enhance the mobility of students into the workforce.
Specialized higher-education programs at the bachelor’s and master’s levels are also important, especially for mining, petroleum engineering, and geology. An adequate supply of skilled scientists and engineers from universities is also essential to ensuring that the United States remains an international leader in technology. Reliance on workers from other countries to fill these ranks is decreasingly an option.
Existing immigration programs related to the workforce are not aligned with the need to increase the STEM professionals and STEM technical workforce. Although reformed policies could be helpful, it is most important to pursue strategies to produce our own talent.
The establishment of several interdisciplinary graduate Centers of Excellence in Earth Resources Engineering at leading U.S. research universities could help focus attention on the science and engineering challenges presented by the extractive industries (petroleum, mining, and geological engineering) and develop the professional expertise needed by industry.
Developing the necessary, educated, and skilled energy and mining workforce will require a strong partnership among business, education at all levels, and the government. No one sector can provide the workforce on its own. In addition, university research can advance technology and business practices, while contributing to workforce development by enriching undergraduate and graduate education and preparing better educators.
Industry image also plays a part in attracting students and workers into energy and mining programs of study and careers. The public perception of the extractive industries in the United States is often that they are environmentally damaging and their jobs are undesirable. (This perception arises from concerns over factors such as pollution, noise, environmental degradation, and health issues, for example.) This negative image dissuades some from pursuing careers in the more traditional energy and mining fields. Efforts by a partnership of industry organizations and educational institutions, incorporating timely and comprehensive information from government and other sources, to inform students, parents, educators, and public policy makers about the importance of the energy and mining industries and STEM education, and the career opportunities that are available in these industries, could help to overcome barriers created by negative industry images. The emerging renewable energy sectors are generally seen as positive, but some negative perceptions exist for them as well (e.g., questionable technology viability, long-term existence, and cost-effectiveness). Such a partnership also could educate the public about these industries and help to mitigate negative perceptions.
Employees of federal agencies involved in the energy and extractive industries are also a key part of the energy and mining workforce, since they are involved in all aspects of these industries. These agencies also face looming
retirements and have difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified workers. Some factors, among others, that contribute to this problem are the federal government’s inability to match industry salaries and benefits and the constrained practices of the government’s personnel system. Foreign workers are not an effective solution, because few agencies can hire them owing to citizenship restrictions. Agencies also are reaching out to nontraditional students (such as women and ethnic minorities) and to returning military veterans. Although agency efforts are helping, revisions in agency recruitment, training, and employment arrangements could bring broader improvements.
Workers in energy and extractive industries are at higher risk for fatal injury than are workers in other fields as a whole. Also, in the mining, oil, and gas industries, looming retirements will create a significant gap between inexperienced and experienced workers, increasing the risk for the younger workers. Training is critical for new workers. In addition, it is important for experienced workers to mentor younger workers and for companies to capture what experienced, retiring workers know and use that knowledge to train new workers. Also, to maintain safety in an increasingly diverse workplace, it is important that supervisors and managers be trained in how to lead and communicate with a diverse workforce.
The United States cannot redesign its education programs and business–education partnerships to better provide a qualified energy and mining workforce without accurate data on occupations, jobs, and skill requirements. Although federal and other databases provide an abundance of information on the energy and mining workforce, the data currently available are neither sufficiently complete and up-to-date nor do they exist at a sufficient degree of granularity. A collaboration of government data-gathering agencies with industry would be needed to collect and analyze the data required for effective energy and mining workforce decision making and policy making.
Along with the challenges come opportunities. Growing energy and mining sectors combined with large numbers of pending workforce retirements are creating unprecedented opportunities for young people to enter these fields. The demographics of the United States are changing, with growing populations from other countries and increasing numbers of women and minority students entering the workforce and pursuing degrees and other certifications. It is key for the nation to look for new workers with both traditional and nontraditional backgrounds in order to provide future employees at all levels. Moreover, addressing the shortfalls of the current education pipeline with innovative new approaches to expanded workforce preparation can increase the flow of new, qualified workers into the workforce. The future is very bright if we choose to prepare for it.
In considering the breadth of information covered in this study, the committee chose to formulate the following set of overarching findings and recommendations to capture the key, fundamental themes contained in the full array of their findings and recommendations. The committee’s full findings and recommendations, along with the information and data to support them, are provided within the report. The overarching recommendations have equal importance and should be initiated as soon as possible. Indicated with each recommendation is the time frame expected for it to become fully operational after initiation. Short term is defined as 2 years or less, medium term as 2-5 years, and long term as more than 5 years. All are expected to continue for the long term.
Traditional routes to degrees in higher education do not adequately align curriculum to energy and mining industry requirements, they are increasingly not affordable and accessible and, therefore, do not provide enough qualified STEM-educated workers and professionals to fulfil the nation’s energy and mining workforce needs.
The goal in addressing the shortfalls of the current education pipeline is to create an education system that can respond to changes in the economy more quickly and produce a more flexible, STEM-competent workforce, resulting in students equipped with multiple skills and levels of skills, preparing them to adjust more quickly to industry requirements and job availability by moving and advancing on career lattices.
Finding 1: Community colleges are providing important new pathways for supplying the energy and mining workforce by providing direct alignment among their programs of study, the credentials they bestow, and industry education and skill requirements.
Finding 2: With a direct alignment to industry education and skill requirements, the success of education programs can be measured by successful attainment of employment and advancement opportunities in the energy and mining industries.
Recommendation 1: The Department of Education, in collaboration with the Department of Labor, state departments of education, and national industry organizations, should convene (perhaps in workshops or as a working group) critical industry, government, and educational leaders to create and support new approaches that provide multiple pathways in higher education that take full advantage of the attributes of our higher education system. Recognizing the differences in regional workforce requirements, these workshops and/or meetings should be convened in different parts of the country. These models would benefit greatly from including, for example:
- Community colleges integrating industry recognized credentials, their learning standards, and content, into associate degree programs, providing more “on” and “off” ramps to postsecondary education, resulting in stackable interim credentials with real value in the labor market, and leading to direct employment or continuing postsecondary educational opportunities; and
- Partnerships between 4-year colleges and universities and community colleges to create new pathways for STEM curriculum, with the first 2 years of STEM-related programs of study being offered at the community college and the second 2 years being offered at the university, thereby expanding the capacity of the critical university degree programs. (Short Term)
No one sector—government, industry, or education—can provide the needed energy and mining workforce on its own. University research also can contribute to workforce development by enhancing the education pipeline.
Finding 3: Ensuring that the United States has the educated and skilled workforce necessary for the success of the energy and mining industries requires a strong partnership among business, education at all levels, and the government.
Finding 4: Technical research leads not only to innovation—the lifeblood of industry’s business success—but also to better education and educators.
Recommendation 2: To address common goals and to provide a mechanism for industry’s engagement with the education process and the graduates it produces, federal agencies (e.g., the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and National Institutes of Health) should consider providing increased research funding to universities, with matching funding from industry and with specific requirements to incorporate two outcomes from the research: (1) advancing technology or business processes to drive innovation and enrich graduate and undergraduate education; and (2) developing university faculty who work on the cutting edge of research to enhance the quality of higher education. The engagement of both faculty and graduate students in this research will extend the pool of STEM-qualified faculty for all educational levels. (Short Term)
Energy and Mining Information for the Public
Importantly, building the best educational pathways in the world and the most qualified STEM faculty for our educational institutions does not mean that
more students will pursue energy and mining programs of study. “Build it and they may not come.” The public perception of the mature extractive industries in the United States is often that they are environmentally damaging and their jobs are undesirable (due to concerns over pollution, noise, environmental degradation, and health issues, for example). This negative image dissuades some from pursuing careers in these industries. Also, although renewable energy is generally seen as positive, some negative perceptions (questionable technology viability, long-term existence, and cost-effectiveness, for example) exist that might dissuade people from joining those workforces. Information about all of these industries can educate the public about their importance to the nation and the career opportunities they offer. The government has a natural role to play in providing and disseminating such information as a complement to nongovernment sources. Information about these industries may also motivate students to pursue STEM courses and prepare for careers in energy and mining. For example, about 7,000 students drop out of high school every school day in the United States, and about 1.3 million students do not graduate each year. Also, in 2011, only 25 percent of graduating high school seniors met or surpassed the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in the areas of science, math, reading, and English.
Finding 5: Students mostly do not stay in STEM courses in K-12 that would prepare them for STEM postsecondary education or employment.
Recommendation 3: National industry organizations, in partnership with educational institutions, should embark on a national campaign to create and provide accurate and timely information on the industries and their careers, educational and career navigation resources, and experiential learning opportunities to explore jobs and career paths in energy and mining. They should work with the Department of Labor and other government institutions to ensure that timely government information is included. (Short Term)
Recommendation 4: In like fashion, national industry organizations and educational institutions should also embark on an informational campaign to educate students, parents, educators, and public policy makers about the importance of the energy and mining industries to our economic and national security, the relevance of STEM education to jobs and careers in these industries, and the opportunities available in these industries—again including timely government information. (Short Term)
The nation cannot redesign its education programs and business-education partnerships to better provide a qualified energy and mining workforce without accurate data on occupations, jobs, and skill requirements.
Finding 6: Although the federal (and other) databases provide an abundance of
information on the energy and mining workforce, such as employment estimates and demographic information, the data currently available for addressing the energy and mining workforce are not sufficiently consistent, comprehensive and up-to-date for these rapidly evolving, technology-infused industries and they do not exist at a sufficient degree of granularity.
Finding 7: To collect and analyze the data needed for effective energy and mining workforce decision and policy making, it is critical to foster the collaboration of government data-gathering agencies with industries that gather data.
Recommendation 5: The Department of Labor, through its Bureau of Labor Statistics, should determine and pursue a more effective way to partner with industry, through its national industry associations, to more quickly and accurately reflect the fast-paced change of job and occupation titles and characteristics, as well as the levels of education and training required in 21st century jobs.1 (Medium Term)
Recommendation 6: The Bureau of Labor Statistics should work with industry and the Departments of Education and Labor to better define the STEM technical workforce needed to support STEM professions in our economy so that appropriate and useful data can be identified, collected, and analyzed. (Medium Term)
The Federal Workforce
Federal employees have a critical role in, and impact on, the success of the U.S. energy and mining industries. They are involved in all aspects of the energy and extractive industries, from initial access (through the permitting process), through production and the regulation of those activities, to closure and restoration during the reclamation process. Federal employees link industry’s ability to produce energy and minerals with civil society’s concerns about these industries. However, the National Nuclear Security Administration reports that a majority of mission-critical employees are currently eligible or will be eligible for retirement in the next 4 years. MSHA projections show that 46 percent of their coal-sector workforce will be eligible to retire within 5 years, and they expect to lose 40 percent of their metal/nonmetal workforce in the same period.
Finding 8: Federal agencies involved in the energy and extractive industries are facing high retirement rates and there is an acute need to replace the departing federal workforce.
Finding 9: Because of the relatively restrictive personnel processes that federal
1 Chapter 8 contains a set of specific recommendations that are based on a detailed overview of the energy and mining workforce, using federal data sources, presented in Appendix B.
agencies must follow and the relatively higher compensation offered by industry, it is difficult for federal agencies to hire and retain the employees they need.
Recommendation 7: All involved federal agencies should review and revise recruitment, training, and employment arrangements for federal employees directly involved in minerals and energy policy, permitting, and production oversight to ensure the agencies’ ability to attract and retain qualified federal workers. Industries involved in energy production and resource extraction should develop collaborative efforts to partner with government at all levels to develop solutions to the problem of recruiting and retaining quality public-sector employees. (Medium Term)