Last month, wind turbine manufacturer Goldwind Americas announced an initiative to train new employees from the coal, oil and natural gas industries, which have seen a downturn in Wyoming recently. “These folks are very well-suited with transferable skills to come and work for the wind industry,” CEO David Halligan told Jackson Hole Daily. The company launched a new training program, Goldwind Works, to fill wind energy technician positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of wind turbine service technicians to grow 108 percent from 2014 to 2024 due to the increased use of wind electricity. In fact, it’s reported as the fastest growing occupation in the U.S. between 2014 and 2024.
In 2014, 42 percent of all coal produced in the U.S. came from Wyoming, and, as the New York Times put it, the state “has hardly welcomed the march of [wind] turbines across the country, even imposing a tax on wind-energy generation.” However, employment for mining and geological engineers is growing much slower than employment in the wind industry, and hundreds of Wyoming coal workers lost their jobs last year. Several coal-mining companies declared bankruptcy in 2015, and along with competition from natural gas and renewable energy, automation is also replacing miners.
In Kentucky, software development company Bit Source recruits displaced coal workers and trains them to become developers. Fast Company named president Justin Hall one of its “most creative people” this year for helping Bit Source develop the program in 2015. Hall told IEE earlier this year, “Appalachia has been exporting coal for a long time. Now we want to export code.” The first group of trainees consisted of 10 former coal workers who participated in 22 weeks of coding and software development training, paid for by U.S. Department of Labor grants. Now, they work for Bit Source as designers and developers.
In another changing industry, Fortune reported in March that AT&T “deserves a special shout-out for taking on what may be the most ambitious program for retraining workers in the history of American business.” In transitioning “from traditional telephone switching technology to software-defined networking,” the company announced an initiative to retrain 100,000 employees by 2020 using an online master’s program in computer science developed in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Those 100,000 employees were identified by internal AT&T research as holding jobs that the company likely would no longer need in 10 years. In 2013, according to Fortune, John Donovan, chief strategy officer, and Bill Blase, senior executive vice president of human resources, determined that while 50 percent of AT&T’s technology and services unit had training in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), by 2020, they would need 95 percent to have that training. The Workforce 2020 Initiative is an investment of over $1 billion that includes new programs and facilities. It also helped place AT&T on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list for the first time this year.
Technology is growing at an ever-faster pace, and entire industries are facing massive upheavals that mean lost jobs. However, reskilling employees for new positions in new companies or at their current employers, can not only mean a renewed career for those workers; it can also mean making companies – and even entire states – more competitive and thriving.