Research Triangle Region is preparing students for STEM careers – and area energy and technology companies are hiring

The Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster issued a report in August that sheds light on the talent needs and job opportunities in the region’s cleantech sector.

Our goal was to help illuminate whether local conditions matched national trends that forecast a looming talent gap for utilities, in particular. If you missed it, check out the summary report on our website.

Looking for talent to grow your company? Seeking a new job, career move or internship? Connect with cleantech and energy companies in NC at these upcoming events: 

RTCC SMART Series: Talent Needs in the Energy and Technology Sector

Tuesday, January 26th

Cleantech Connect Job Fair

Thursday, April 21

3:00 – 5:00 pm

There was plenty of good news in the report -- eighty-four percent of technology and energy companies in the Research Triangle Region expect to hire within the next five years, adding between 1,500 and 3,300 employees – along with a very detailed list of employer needs, from specific skill sets to ways they’d like government and interest groups to be supportive.

RTCC worked with RTI International to survey 123 regional companies of all sizes that work in the energy and technology sectors or related services-- from engineering, construction, semiconductors and wireless to waste management and biochemical manufacturing.

Among them, small companies are driving a significant part of the expected growth, with most expecting to hire up to nine new employees, and others doubling in size.

For the new hires, employers cited a range of specific desired needs: niche skills, such as cyber security, data science and sales engineering, along with project management and electrical engineering. Oracle software expertise, substation automation and protection control engineers top the lists for some area employers. Companies are also looking for mid-career talent coupled with industry experience. They’re seeking talent with blended skillsets that integrate communications and business acumen with, for example, engineering or data analytics.

And, as further evidence for the rapid change underway in the energy and technology sectors: nearly all of those surveyed reported they expect to integrate new capabilities into their business models. But employers also noted that the in-demand positions feeding these expected new lines of business will require the skills employers also say are the hardest to hire for.

There’s a commonly held understanding that the search for STEM talent is a global challenge, so it’s not surprising that the survey would show the Research Triangle region is no exception. The happy news, however, is that local employers feel good about taking that challenge on: the majority of respondents ranked the existing talent pool here very highly.

Beyond the exceptional quality of life, lower costs and other factors our region is routinely lauded for against comparative regions, we know that workforce training programs and similar investments will be critical to our success as a cluster ecosystem.

At the Energy Thought Summit (ETS) conference RTCC hosted last November, some of our region’s most influential leaders spoke on the topic -- Dr. Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS; N.C. State College of Engineering Dean, Louis Martin Vega; UNC Charlotte Energy Production Infrastructure Director, Johan Enslin; and Duke Energy Corporation VP, Hilda Pinnix Ragland, former chair of the NC Community College System.

Each of these panelists stressed that the entire education system -- Kindergarten through 16 -- must be engaged in the process of preparing today’s and tomorrow’s workforce for the grid of the future, the power electronics of the future, and more.

Universities clearly play central roles in research and education, as key regional assets, the FREEDM Systems Center and the Power America Institute, have demonstrated. In addition to supporting high-level research, the FREEDM Center is also fostering early interest in technology as host to the Electric Vehicle Challenge, a statewide STEM program for high school students.

Community colleges, too, play a vital role in supplying the energy industry with workers. As Ms. Pinnix-Ragland noted at ETS, “the vast number of jobs for the future and today—whether it is with our craft worker or our technical worker—are really educated through the community college system.”

But the energy career pipeline begins early, and so must our workforce development efforts. The panelists recommended that we better train STEM educators, make energy education more interactive, and invest in partnerships.

With respect to partnerships, the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster was pleased to welcome university and energy sector leaders to its Advisory Council this year -- General Nick Justice, Executive Director of the Power America Institute at NC State, Suellen Aldina, Director of Engagement and Administration at the Duke University Energy Initiative and Dr. Carol Hee, Director of Research at the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at UNC Chapel Hill. We look forward to the positive outcomes for the region our partnership can foster – and we invite you to be part of the conversation at one of our upcoming events. Check out the sidebar in this email to learn more.

- Christa Wagner Vinson is Program Manager of the RTCC

Stay up-to-date on the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster's latest news and opportunities.

Upcoming Events

Welcome New Members