by Alicia Criado, Policy Associate, Economic and Employment Policy Project, NCLR
During my trip to Johannesburg for the African Presidential Roundtable 2012, convened by Boston University’s African Presidential Archives and Research Center (APARC), I came across the following African Proverb: “Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” This proverb illustrates much of the problem limiting Africa’s ability to build a secure and sustainable 21st century energy agenda—they are not developing adequate levels of human capital with the necessary skills. Given my focus on economic and employment policy issues affecting Latino workers in the U.S., I was very familiar with this problem. Similar to Africa, there is a need to create pipelines and job training programs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields in order to ensure that the next generation of leadership is able to benefit from current opportunities in energy and continue to create new innovative technologies. Without a trained workforce, nations risk undermining their ability to achieve energy security and sustainability in either the short or long run.
The development of new energy innovations must happen in conjunction with investments in training and education for people with STEM backgrounds to fill 21st century energy jobs. Boston University Associate Professor Dr. Muhammad Zaman’s 50-year energy personnel projection estimate for various Sub-Saharan African countries indicates that most countries will have a scarcity of people with any form of diploma or degree. As the chart below shows, most countries currently largely lack people with any form of training or education needed for the technical and research and development positions in the energy industry. However, what the chart does not account for is the large number of Africans trained in the STEM fields, particularly engineers and researchers, living abroad. This “brain drain” is hampering development on the continent. During my time in graduate school, I recall meeting many African students that obtained their degrees and had no plans of returning to their home countries—there simply was little incentive to do so. Instead of hoping skilled Africans will decide on their own to return to their home countries, governments must develop relationships with institutions to explore ways of encouraging skilled African students to work in Africa and assist in the development of their countries.
As I shift gears and return to my work engaging Latinos around clean energy at the National Council of La Raza, I am hopeful that the new ideas, perspectives, and contacts I gained in South Africa will serve as both invaluable resources and motivation. Like many Africans, many Hispanics living in the U.S. stand to benefit from pathways which will increase their ability to compete for new job opportunities in a quickly unfolding clean energy economy. The skill and talent are out there, so let’s start investing in them!