Caribbean Workforce Development Needed to Drive Solar Energy Revolution
By: Dr. Wayne Archibald from Green Solutions International SKN INC
Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our times, but there is no more time for ideas without action. The social, economic, and political costs of inaction are too high for small island developing states across the Caribbean. The global community agreed to limit global warming to between 1.5°C and 2°C at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21). However, over the years, Caribbean nations and other small island developing states have called for 1.5°C to be declared as the upper limit, based on their geographic and economic vulnerabilities. Closing out COP26 in Glasgow last November, COP President Alok Sharma asserted, “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But, its pulse is weak, and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”
As part of the solution, rapid action is needed in the region to drive the transition to clean energy. Sustainable Energy Paths for the Caribbean, a 2020 report published by the Inter-American Development Bank, shows that progress across the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) toward national and regional targets has been relatively slow. At the same time, the report estimates that CARICOM countries could save US$5.7 billion in energy generation costs between 2020 and 2040 if they invest optimally in renewable electricity generation.
Caribbean countries have long acknowledged the need to leverage the steady sunlight they enjoy by scaling up the integration of renewable energy within and across sectors in a push to reduce global warming and mitigate climate change. A skilled and inclusive workforce is needed to drive a sustainable transition to clean energy across the region. However, this variable often is left out of the conversation on Solar Energy.
A strong symbol of equity
The transition to solar has the potential to be a symbol of equity by making energy more accessible across the board. It is important to ensure everyone has an equal shot entering the solar workforce, especially women. It is hard to overstate the value women add to the workforce through their insights and experiences. These gendered perspectives are needed as we move to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic and create clean and resilient energy systems for the future. Currently, women account for less than 20 percent of, for example, Jamaica’s solar workforce. Low-income groups also have similar workforce ratios.
A skilled and inclusive workforce is needed to drive a sustainable transition to clean energy across the region.
Looking to the future, we must get it right from the start by creating policies and action plans that prioritize underrepresented groups for recruitment, training, and the provision of jobs. Training organizations should offer low-cost or free training – if funding is available – to help prepare under-represented people to enter the workforce. Solar industry associations across the region should develop apprenticeship programs with companies to create avenues for meaningful work experience.
The recruitment of candidates from underrepresented groups is only one dimension. Employers need to create an inclusive environment in which women, in particular, feel comfortable, valued, and respected. This allows them to thrive in the workforce and bolster retention. Creating an enabling environment helps employers to challenge dominant and problematic perceptions on who should have a place in the energy sector.
As Caribbean nations push to achieve their 2030 targets to generate solar and other forms of renewable energy, the true measure of success will be the extent to which Caribbean nationals are equipped to design their energy futures.
Employers need to create an inclusive environment in which women, in particular, feel comfortable, valued, and respected.
About Green Solutions International
Green Solutions International (GSI), a Caribbean non-governmental organization, was founded over five years ago to provide industry-leading technical training in the solar industry. Our vision is to make solar certifications widely accessible and create a pathway for solar professionals to make a way for themselves across the Caribbean. Over the past two years, GSI has trained over 500 people across the region in-person or online via our virtual platform