Cover: Energy-Sector Workforce Development in Southwestern Pennsylvania

Energy-Sector Workforce Development in Southwestern Pennsylvania

Aligning Education and Training with Innovation and Needed Skills

Published Aug 31, 2015

by Gabriella C. Gonzalez, Reema Singh, Rita T. Karam, David S. Ortiz


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Research Questions

  1. What are current key technological innovations in the energy sector?
  2. What best practices of educational and training programs have successfully responded to innovations in other sectors?
  3. What implications do these innovations have for the energy-sector education and training system in southwestern Pennsylvania?

To address the challenges of ensuring a skilled, adaptable workforce for the energy sector in southwestern Pennsylvania, the National Energy Technology Laboratory asked the RAND Corporation to help determine how the postsecondary education and training system could meet the growing and shifting skill demands for semiskilled labor in the energy sector due to technological innovation through 2020. The study had four objectives: (1) document key technological innovations in the energy sector; (2) identify possible best practices of educational and training programs that have successfully responded to evolving labor markets in other sectors; (3) conduct a case-study analysis of four energy-sector education and training programs in southwestern Pennsylvania; and (4) provide recommendations for the energy-sector education and training system in southwestern Pennsylvania. This report documents the findings and makes recommendations for improvement.

Key Findings

Four Drivers Motivate Innovation in the Energy Sector

  • Innovation in the energy sector that affects necessary workforce skills can be organized into the following motivators: increasing productivity in energy extraction, minimizing risk of environmental damage and reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, integrating renewable energy into the grid, and improving energy end-use efficiency.

The Energy Sector Needs an Agile, Skilled Workforce to Adapt to Changes in Technology and Innovation

  • Core competencies needed for the energy workforce to respond to technological innovations include content knowledge of the industry in question, transferable, hands-on skills, and soft skills or workplace competencies.

Five Practices Characterize Postsecondary Training and Education Programs That Best Meet the Needs of an Evolving Labor Market

  • Postsecondary education and training programs that tend to be the most successful in adapting to evolving labor-market needs have well-developed mechanisms to anticipate demand for specific occupations by developing consistent, ongoing relationships with industry leaders; curricula that include occupation-specific and generic skills; complementary in-class and workplace learning opportunities; quality instructors with workplace and teaching experience; and ongoing quality-assurance processes.

Case-Study Analysis of Southwestern Pennsylvania's Regional Education and Training Providers Reveal That They Display Some Aspects of the Five Promising Practices

  • Mechanisms for anticipating occupation demands through relationships with industry leaders were not typically ongoing.
  • Curricula across the institutions included occupation-specific and generic skills, but delivery varied.
  • Workplace learning opportunities to complement in-class opportunities were not evident.
  • Hiring quality instructors with workplace and teaching experience has proven difficult.
  • Programs need to undertake ongoing quality-assurance practices.


  • Develop sustained and continuous partnerships between industry leaders and education and training providers.
  • Develop education and training programs that integrate technical, occupation-specific training along with workplace readiness and other soft skills.
  • Encourage recruitment and retention of quality instructors.
  • Incorporate mechanisms to continuously ensure quality of education and training programs.
  • Document progress on whether regional energy-sector training and employment goals are being met.

The research described in this report was conducted in the Environment, Energy, and Economic Development Program within RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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