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COVID-19 Sustainable Recovery Plan to Create 9 Million Energy-Sector Jobs in Construction & Manufacturing

By Michael Tobias

A sustainable recovery plan, devised by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund and a host of other organizations, agencies, and highly qualified individuals, has been designed to create millions of new jobs related to energy in the construction and manufacturing industries over the next three years.

Published in the form of an IEA World Energy Outlook Special Report, the plan, Sustainable Recovery, was motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic that has had a dire effect on global economies and resulted in the collapse of a multitude of businesses. Not only has the disease impacted harshly on the health of people worldwide, but millions have also lost their jobs, adding to the widespread misery of poverty and hunger.

Because the plan revolves around energy, it is the sectors related to energy that will benefit. But a wide range of jobs will be impacted from professional positions held by designers, architects, accountants, and various engineers including those offering mechanical engineering services in Chicago and other major world cities to plumbers, electricians, and those doing more menial jobs.

The Challenge of a Sustainable Recovery

Faced with the enormous proportions and implications of the health emergency plaguing the globe, the IEA mustered its vast analytical teams and tasked them with quantifying and examining the shocking effects of the virus on global energy investment and assessed global energy demand and the impact it has had on all fuel types including coal, gas, oil, electricity, and renewable energy.

The motivation was to come up with a sustainable three-year recovery plan that identifies viable steps governments can take to restart their economies, generate employment for the many millions who need it so desperately, and build energy systems that are more resilient and environmentally friendly.

Governments are responding to the global economic crisis on a mammoth scale, and already measures amounting to more than nine trillion US dollars have been announced. Most of these seem to focus mainly on emergency economic and financial relief measures that are designed to prevent countries from sinking deeper into debt and exacerbating the many problems they face.

Some government plans already incorporate energy, but the IEA is calling for more focus on this sector, particularly in terms of electricity, different types of fuels, and innovative emerging low-carbon technologies. It looks at industry, transportation, and buildings, and considers how greenhouse gas emissions can be minimized in each sector. 

The IEA plan takes long-term growth objectives into account and details sustainable development goals which will boost economies and provide jobs going forward. 

Strategies for Job Creation

The three-year IEA recovery plan, scheduled from 2021 until the end of 2023, is predicted to create close to 9 million new construction and manufacturing jobs in energy-related fields, some temporary and some permanent by the end of 2021. Additionally, up to 0.4 million job-years (meaning one job for one year) are predicted to be available after the plan period as a result of work on extended construction projects, as well as 0.5 million permanent jobs related to the operation and maintenance of buildings of various kinds constructed because of the recovery plan.

Ultimately, the authors of Sustainable Recovery estimate that the plan will generate about 27 million job-years globally. Of these, about 35% will be in energy-efficiency projects in buildings and/or various industry sectors, with a bit more than 25% in the power (electricity) sector.

With 9.5 million job opportunities predicted for energy-efficiency for buildings and industry, more than half (a bit less than 60%) are likely to be related to efficient new construction or for building retrofits – all endorsing the need for clean, resilient energy systems.

The initial focus of the plan is to stabilize existing projects so that those working on them can keep their jobs, as well as to launch new projects rapidly to literally jump-start new employment opportunities. The latter would include projects like energy-efficiency retrofits in the construction industry or the installation of urban transport infrastructure improvements.

But these impressive figures do depend on implementation by countries globally. There is an urgent need for a steady stream of new projects for manufacturing and construction jobs to be ongoing, so this will require careful planning and continued expansion. While the plan has been formulated for a three-year period, it is hoped that many will extend the plan so that economies continue to grow.

It is hoped that many jobs created by following the recovery plan guidelines will match or cater to the skills of workers who lost their jobs and livelihoods during the pandemic. While this would create opportunity it would also mean that minimal retraining would be required. 

One issue is that prior to the pandemic, about 93% of construction jobs and more than 60% of jobs in manufacturing were held by men. This means that there is an urgent need to close gender gaps and offer opportunities to women.

But all in all, the sustainable recovery plan will, if followed globally, provide considerable long-term employment because those in new jobs will spend money which will help to lead to further job creation. Measures taken to increase energy efficiency will help to provide savings for consumers, which will increase their disposable income too. This will also support increased employment in various economic activities. Investment in new, innovative industries like hydrogen production and the manufacture of batteries will also boost future job growth.

It’s all about growing failing economies and achieving a new normal financially.

In the meantime, those who still have jobs and businesses that have survived the pandemic must carry on supporting the efforts to keep our cities, buildings, and home environments free from the virus.

Many buildings have closed down during lockdown and it is vital to ensure that they are clean, sanitized, and risk-free when they reopen. In fact, the same applies to buildings that have remained in operation.

Do not allow your building to become a high-risk environment for infection of any kind, certainly not the coronavirus. Unless you already have an optimized ventilation system with effective air filtering and purification measures in place, consider contracting an MEP engineering firm to check your building and compile an air quality report with recommendations of what can be done to improve air quality. You owe it to your tenants and/or employees whether they have worked for you for years or are joining as part of a new team.

Stay safe and support the IEA sustainable recovery plan if you can.

Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of Nearby Engineers and New York Engineers, which is an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of more than 30 mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City, and has led numerous projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia. He specializes in sustainable building technology and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.