This report is the second in a two-part series exploring how cities can support green workers, especially amid historic federal infrastructure investment. The first report focuses on why green jobs plans matter and where U.S. cities stand in implementing them.
The transition to a cleaner, more resilient U.S. economy continues to gain speed. Shifts toward renewable energy generation, battery technologies, and adaptive designs are reducing pollution and protecting our built environment amid climate change. But a lack of skilled workers to power the green transition is threatening to stall this momentum.
Whether constructing transmission lines, installing electric vehicle charging stations, or operating and maintaining more energy-efficient and storm-resistant buildings, millions of workers are already employed in this transition. Yet millions more are needed. Policymakers and researchers continue to debate the exact number and types of “green jobs” (broadly defined as positions involved in carrying out activities with an environmental benefit) emerging nationally, but one point is clear: The U.S. does not have a durable pipeline of talent ready to address these needs.
Similar to the country’s broader infrastructure workforce, green workers tend to specialize in the skilled trades. Even though these positions pay competitive wages, tend to not require a four-year college degree, and have massive hiring needs, many prospective workers don’t know such jobs exist or don’t have flexible ways to get needed on-the-job training for them. That is especially the case for younger people, women, and people of color who lack supportive services such as child care and transportation, and face other long-standing barriers in the workplace. Meanwhile, employers—including utilities, contractors, and other public and private entities—compete against each other for a limited pool of talent.
The challenge—and opportunity—to connect more workers to green careers is even more urgent given the historic influx of federal funding for clean energy, transportation, water, and related improvements. Together, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) are pumping $1.25 trillion across a variety of projects over the next five to 10 years, many of which focus on climate-related upgrades. As federal, state, and local leaders coordinate to implement all this funding, they are scrambling to simply get projects done. Harnessing this money to support workforce development is often an afterthought.
Local government and business leaders are in a prime position to accelerate new green investments and green workforce development efforts. Energy utilities, transportation departments, water agencies, and other local infrastructure owners and operators have widespread eligibility and flexibility to use federal funding for workforce development purposes. They can support apprenticeships, create additional work-based learning opportunities, and forge collaborations with community colleges, labor groups, and other partners. In other words, the IIJA and IRA give local leaders wide latitude to determine how—and how much—funding goes toward workforce development.
This brief builds off past Brookings research on city-led green jobs plans to examine what federal infrastructure funding is available to support green workforce development, with a particular focus on how local leaders can access workforce funding. That previous analysis showed local leaders must do more planning around green jobs, from collaborating with community partners to establishing detailed statistical benchmarks. This report describes what IIJA and IRA programs can aid in these efforts or (in many cases) reward localities for being proactive on their green workforce needs.
This report aims to help local leaders make more informed decisions around workforce development amid a deluge of documents on federal infrastructure funding and a range of competing priorities. We find that:
- Fifty-four programs within the IIJA and IRA—totaling $75 billion—emphasize or allow green workforce development activities. Only four programs in the IIJA and IRA (totaling $260 million) are exclusively dedicated to green workforce development. However, there is a broader set of 54 programs that offer flexibility for local leaders to use funding to support technical education, training, and other workforce-related activities. This flexibility comes despite the fact that these programs primarily focus on funding capital projects, particularly in energy and transportation. Ten of these 54 programs are tax credits within the IRA, which hold considerable promise in incentivizing action at a local level. But their ultimate reach and impact remain difficult to forecast.
- A wide range of entities are eligible to receive IIJA and IRA funding for green workforce development activities. Forty of the 54 previously mentioned programs (totaling $62 billion) include more than one eligible entity, such as educational institutions and nonprofit organizations. Government agencies most commonly receive funding, especially state and local government departments focused on infrastructure. But the flexibility built into the IIJA and IRA is already supporting new workforce programs and collaborations across the country.
- Most IIJA and IRA green workforce-related programs have already started to provide funding. Thirty-four programs (totaling $47 billion) have started to provide funding over multiple quarters throughout the federal fiscal calendar (October 2022 to September 2023). These span multiple agencies (e.g., Department of Energy, Department of Transportation), yet many are closing or about to close—signaling the need for local leaders to ensure timely grant applications.
As with the previous Brookings research, this report does not aim to precisely define green jobs, especially amid continued debates on how to isolate, measure, or forecast such employment figures. Rather, it aims to explore which federal infrastructure funding programs emphasize or allow green workforce development activities—filling a crucial information gap for local leaders pledging or already taking climate action.
We first contextualize the country’s green workforce needs that the IIJA and IRA can potentially support. We then dive deeper into both laws to uncover the types of green-workforce-related programs and amount of funding available. Finally, we end with a discussion of where local leaders need to take their green workforce planning to maximize the current window of federal funding and beyond.
There is a widespread need to recruit, train, and hire workers for green jobs. From wind and solar power installations in Appalachia and the Mountain West to new flood barriers and rain gardens in New York, public and private leaders are investing in a variety of cleaner, more resilient infrastructure improvements that demand skilled workers. We have previously shown that 320 unique occupations are involved in clean energy production, energy efficiency, and environmental management. These sectors employ millions of workers in the skilled trades and other administrative, financial, and support occupations.
In turn, definitions of the green workforce—including its size, geographic extent, and the nature of its work—also vary considerably, as multiple Brookings publications have explored. However, estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Energy, the Burning Glass Institute, Lightcast, and many other researchers and organizations point to rapid green job growth in coming years, especially due to evolving “green skills” in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and other disciplines. The current influx of federal funding is likely to further drive this need—pressuring more employers and workers to invest in preparation for careers in this space.
Preparing for green careers tends to require less formal postsecondary education compared to all jobs nationally, but more extensive work-based learning, such as apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships, and internships. Whether employed as wind turbine technicians, water treatment operators, or recycle material collectors, many green workers have a high school diploma or less, including 50% of workers involved in energy efficiency, compared to a third of all workers nationally. Employers—including energy and water utilities, construction contractors, and state and local government agencies—are central to providing workers these training opportunities. Educational institutions, labor groups, and community-based organizations are also essential partners in equipping green workers with needed skills, credentials, and other supportive services, including child care and transportation to a job site.
All of this preparation and coordination takes time, money, and other technical and planning resources (e.g., staff, data, etc.) that many localities lack. Even if more cities pledge to take climate action and to connect more people to jobs in the green transition, they frequently do not have sustained plans or programs to do so. The result has been kicking the can on needed climate investments, training, and community outreach, while relying on business-as-usual practices such as investing in the same projects, relying on the same construction contractors, and marginalizing many of the same prospective job seekers. Meanwhile, younger people, people of color, and women continue to struggle to gain a foothold in these careers and remain underrepresented across the green workforce; for example, women represent less than 2% of workers in some occupations, such as electrical power line installers.
However, the surge of federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) offers an unprecedented window to accelerate climate investments and address these green workforce development needs over the next five to 10 years. The combined $1.25 trillion across both laws is already driving the completion of thousands of new energy, transportation, water, and other projects across the country. But simply spending more money on infrastructure is no guarantee that all people and places will benefit, especially when it comes to green workforce development.
Until recently, federal spending on green workforce development has been limited. Most previous federal infrastructure spending has focused on completing projects instead of training people, and has been siloed by agency (e.g., the Department of Transportation versus the Department of Energy). Spending on workforce development in general, including apprenticeships, has long been lacking, as has spending on green jobs data and research (which have also lapsed over time, including at the Bureau of Labor of Statistics).
One of the few dedicated federal green job training programs is the Department of Labor’s $500 million effort to “help create, better understand, and provide training for jobs within the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries,” which was launched through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But this resulted in few discernable outcomes. More recent legislative and executive pushes around a Green New Deal and the Build Back Better agenda faltered as well.
With little precedent on how to operationalize and implement all this federal funding, agencies and executive leadership are scrambling to design new workforce programs, form new collaborations, and simply get IIJA and IRA money out the door. Extensive technical assistance and guidance on infrastructure workforce development—including green jobs specifically—has become a priority for federal leaders as they work alongside state and local entities eligible to receive funding. A Brookings report released earlier this year highlighted the wide range of federal, state, and local partners involved in this process.
The enormous amount of funding and programmatic scope of both the IIJA and IRA are overwhelming many federal, state, and local leaders. Different program deadlines, application requirements, and the deluge of federal documents coming out every day create a complex maze for leaders to navigate. Perhaps the bigger challenge—and opportunity—is around the eligibility and flexibility to use a portion of this funding for workforce development, versus there being a dedicated (or required) amount of funding for it. Put another way, state and local entities can use IIJA and IRA funding to train and prepare workers, but they are not required to do so in most cases.
This is leading to several areas of confusion and complexity among local stakeholders, such as:
- Navigating formula funding versus competitive funding versus tax credits. The IIJA includes more than 400 individual programs, while the IRA includes nearly 140. These programs not only span dozens of federal agencies, but also vary in their timelines, eligibility criteria, geographic reach, and the nature in which the funding flows across the country. In short, the specific pot of money matters for how and when local leaders can even access funding from different programs. For example, “formula programs”—which represent the vast majority of funding in both laws—allocate federal funds to designated state and local governments based on pre-existing formulas, such as population levels or roadway miles, and have historically not prioritized workforce development. With “competitive programs,” federal agency officials have more freedom to design program requirements and goals and select grant recipients based on whether proposals meet the stated criteria, which could include workforce development. Lastly, the role of “tax credit programs” and other incentives, especially within the IRA, are designed to encourage businesses and households to make green upgrades, some of which include prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements. Additional details on tax credits are available later in this report.
- Bridging barriers between infrastructure leaders and workforce leaders. It can be easy to talk about the importance of economic equity and creating durable career pathways for more and different people, but the reality in many places is that infrastructure entities eligible to receive IIJA or IRA funding (e.g., utilities, transportation departments, etc.) do not coordinate closely with educational institutions, workforce boards, and other actors focused on these objectives (and vice versa). Since infrastructure agencies will be the direct recipients of most IIJA and IRA funding, it’s up to their leadership to ignore the temptation of prevailing business processes—which tend to focus on immediate projects with immediate hiring needs—and look to build more collaborative, forward-looking approaches. Workforce leaders, for their part, also need to better understand how existing infrastructure hiring and training processes work, including potential ways to address long-standing planning gaps with these infrastructure entities.
- Identifying and acting on climate-related funding programs. It’s not always easy to clearly demarcate which federal programs focus on climate mitigation and adaptation and which focus on traditional infrastructure projects such as highway expansion. While the IRA is more straightforward given its prevailing emphasis on clean energy, buildings, transportation, and water, the IIJA includes an assortment of programs with different priorities. The Brookings Federal Infrastructure Hub includes a “climate-related” flag for IIJA programs that emphasize projects with an environmental benefit, such as transit improvements, green infrastructure investments, grid resilience, and technological innovation. However, local leaders ultimately have wide discretion in the types of projects and amount of funding they dedicate toward these types of upgrades, including relevant workforce needs.
- Measuring and assessing progress on green workforce needs. As federal infrastructure funding scatters across the country, there is a lack of consistent measures, timelines, and benchmarks of success around green workforce needs. Should the focus be around job growth or job quality? What about credentials? The answers are not always clear. While some cities, such as Los Angeles, Detroit, and Cincinnati, have developed more robust green jobs plans with clear definitions and statistical measures (as highlighted in our earlier report), most places have not. While federal efforts such as the Biden administration’s Justice40 Initiative and the Labor Department’s Good Jobs Initiative center issues of environmental justice, economic equity, and job quality in infrastructure investments, localities must adopt their own measures if they aim to replicate similar goals.
Given the enormous economic potential the IIJA and IRA make possible, local leaders need a clearer roadmap of how, when, and where to access funding for green workforce development. This report builds off methods from two previous Brookings reports—a January 2023 piece on workforce-related programs in the IIJA and a July 2023 piece on green jobs planning—to help local leaders better understand where this funding exists.
In particular, we identify programs within the IIJA and IRA that emphasize or allow green workforce development activities. We defined “green workforce development activities” as those related to recruiting, training, and hiring workers involved in the transition to a cleaner, more resilient economy (or green transition). Major workforce development activities include career and technical education, on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and skills development more generally.
This process involved several steps, including a keyword search of relevant legislation, reviewing other publicly available documents (including from the White House and federal agencies), and our subject matter expertise of different programs and provisions. We also relied heavily on the Brookings Federal Infrastructure Hub and other previous Brookings-led categorizations of the IIJA and IRA to consistently organize and assess programs across infrastructure sectors, agencies, and more. Additional details on how we analyzed the legislation are available in a downloadable methods appendix. A full list of green-workforce-related IIJA and IRA programs are also available in a downloadable Excel file.
The IIJA and IRA feature over 540 programs that cross multiple infrastructure sectors and should deliver at least $1.25 trillion in infrastructure-related investments over the next five to 10 years. While most of these programs concentrate on funding project development (e.g., constructing transportation, energy, and water systems), some also include language on green workforce development. We identified 54 programs and $75 billion—about 10% of all programs and 6% of all funding within both laws—that focus on climate mitigation and adaptation as well as recruiting, training, and hiring workers.
By sector, two-thirds of these green-workforce-related programs (36 of the 54) focus on energy, ranging from grid modernization to building retrofits. The remaining programs focus on: transportation, including transit and pedestrian upgrades (nine programs); stormwater management (one program); miscellaneous environmental activities such as landscape restoration and wildfire risk reduction (four programs); and an assortment of other federal activities around research, data, and permitting (four programs). However, energy programs only account for 41% of the total green-workforce-related funding, slightly behind transportation (45%). It’s important to note that these totals do not include potential workforce investments connected to energy-related tax credits.
The Department of Energy (DOE) contains the most programs overall (23, amounting to $26.5 billion), followed by the Department of Transportation (DOT) with six programs totaling $24.4 billion, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with five programs totaling $9.1 billion. A variety of smaller yet still sizable programs are scattered across the departments of Agriculture (USDA), Interior, Commerce, and other joint agency collaborations. Of particular importance is the Department of the Treasury, which oversees 10 different tax credit programs within the IRA that specify wage and apprenticeship requirements (discussed in more detail below).
For example, DOE’s $3.5 billion Weatherization Assistance Program represents one of the larger, more flexible pots of funding with a green workforce connection. The department released a Workforce Development Toolkit that outlines how the program can train, upskill, and ultimately build a pipeline of workers to increase energy efficiency in homes, especially for lower-income households. DOT’s $13.2 billion Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program is another large source of flexible funding for green workforce development; it supports projects that reduce transportation emissions along with other eligible uses such as training and educational activities. Among the smaller (but still sizable) buckets of funding is USDA’s $180 million Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership program, which aims to improve the health and resilience of forests while also looking for proposals that increase forest workforce capacity. Not all of the funding in these programs will go toward green workforce development, but there is flexibility and eligibility to do so, giving local leaders wide latitude to determine how much funding they want to dedicate to these activities.
Only four programs in the IIJA and IRA (totaling $260 million) are exclusively dedicated to green workforce development. One is DOE’s $40 million Energy Auditor Training Grant Program, a new effort that provides grants to eligible states to train individuals to conduct energy audits and survey residential or commercial buildings for improvements. DOE’s $10 million Career Skills Training Program is a similar effort that provides grants for students to receive both classroom instruction and on-the-job training so they can obtain a certification to install energy-efficient building technologies.
At the same time, some programs within the IIJA and IRA that do not include any green-workforce-related phrasing in the legislation itself are emerging as potential sources of funding via ongoing guidance and notices of funding availability from federal agencies. One example is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s $2.6 billion Investing in Coastal Communities and Climate Resilience program; a portion of this funding ($60 million) will aim to place workers into good jobs that advance climate resilience and assist employers in developing a climate-literate 21st century workforce. Since many programs within the laws represent new, competitive opportunities, federal agencies will likely continue releasing additional guidance on new funding for green workforce development in the months and years to come.
Other broader infrastructure programs that could support green workforce development
While this report focuses on 54 programs in the IIJA and IRA that clearly relate to both climate mitigation and adaptation as well as hiring, training, and recruiting workers, there are several other infrastructure programs in the laws that could support similar green workforce development activities. This is especially the case for a handful of IIJA programs that give state and local leaders enormous discretion in how much they want to prioritize workforce development alongside project development, including the types of projects selected, which we emphasized in a January 2023 report.
For instance, among competitive programs, DOT’s $7.5 billion Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program is already supporting hundreds of projects nationally with a focus on pollution reduction, equitable economic development, and more. Yet it is also supporting projects without a clear climate focus or emphasis on workforce development, such as new bridges and truck parking. The same can be said for formula programs such as the EPA’s $43 billion State Revolving Fund programs, which support a variety of drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater projects. While the EPA has released guidance calling for state and local leaders to emphasize climate, workforce development, and other objectives in the use of this funding, the ultimate decisions to do so—and their impacts—are still to be determined.
Dozens of additional competitive and formula programs beyond the 54 analyzed here could support green workforce development. But given the uncertainties in state and local implementation, we have excluded these programs from our analysis. We also did not include other emerging workforce development programs in federal agencies beyond the IIJA and IRA, such as the Department of Labor’s $94 million Building Pathways to Infrastructure Jobs Grant Program. Continued monitoring and reporting is essential to determine the ultimate reach of these programs.
Since the IIJA and IRA include a combination of formula and competitive programs, new and existing programs, and a variety of infrastructure sectors and work activities, funding can go to multiple entities. And in many cases, the programs encourage multiple entities to partner together on these efforts.
Our analysis examined 10 types of entities that commonly appeared across these programs: federal, state, tribal, regional, local, educational, nonprofit, business, coalition, and other entities. The first five entity types tend to include government agencies or other administrative bodies, while the latter five cover a broader range of schools, businesses, community-based organizations, and coalitions of partners. The methodological appendix contains more detailed information on all of these entities.
The vast majority of green-workforce-related programs (40 of the 54) include more than one eligible entity. And many of these programs include multiple eligible entity types: seven programs include six eligible types, while 12 programs include seven eligible types. State and local governments are among the most common eligible entities, given their central (and traditional) role owning and operating infrastructure systems. However, educational and nonprofit entities also frequently appear; these two types of entities are mentioned across 23 and 27 different green-workforce-related programs, respectively. Among the 14 programs with only one eligible entity type, a majority (nine) are related to federal research.
The amount of funding available to these entities follows a similar pattern. Nearly 83% of green-workforce-related funding ($62 billion of the $75 billion total) is found in programs with more than one eligible entity. Again, programs with multiple eligible entities are sizable; programs with five or six eligible entities total nearly $22 billion. State and local governments tend to dominate eligibility for these programs, yet educational and nonprofit entities are technically eligible for enormous pots of funding as well. They are eligible for nearly $56 billion in green-workforce-related funding, which speaks to the potential reach of these programs for training and other activities.
But it remains to be seen whether this funding reaches all these eligible entities, since state and local governments tend to dominate decisions over project selection and development. Within DOT, for instance, the $1.3 billion Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Grant Program represents a new, competitive opportunity to deploy electric vehicle charging stations and related physical upgrades. But whether eligible local agencies focus on workforce development is still unknown. There also remains uncertainty on how often other eligible entities besides local agencies will access this and other funding for green workforce purposes.
Still, some examples are already emerging across the country. The IIJA appropriated $3.5 billion for the development of regional direct air capture hubs, and DOE has selected two projects for award negotiations: Project Cypress and South Texas DAC Hub. These projects will support the training and hiring of a diverse workforce. Additionally, the South Texas DAC Hub will provide workforce analysis and involve universities to support education and research around carbon management and other natural resource issues. Likewise, the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation is overseeing the $4 billion National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program, which has already funded 35 states to develop electric vehicle chargers across approximately 53,000 miles of highway. Some of these states, including Colorado and Maine, have proposed using this funding to train electricians and develop a skilled workforce in their plans.
The IRA’s 10 green-workforce-related tax credit programs represent perhaps the most significant programs with widespread eligibility, but also carry the most uncertain impact.
The role of IRA tax credit programs for green workforce development
Formula and competitive programs are the traditional ways federal funding supports infrastructure and green improvements nationally. However, the IRA also includes several tax credits and other incentive (rebate) programs to jump-start these efforts.
Tax credits are a dollar-for-dollar amount that eligible entities, such as businesses and households, can claim on their tax return to reduce the amount they owe and potentially increase their refund. The IRA established two new tax credit delivery mechanisms—elective (direct) pay and transferability—that differ from traditional tax credits in distinct ways and have enormous potential to unlock funding for green workforce development.
We identified 10 tax credit programs in the IRA that emphasize green workforce development issues, particularly in the energy sector and around clean energy. Tax credits such as the clean electricity production credit, clean fuel production credit, and clean hydrogen credit were established to help create high-quality jobs and strengthen clean energy in the U.S. These provisions are administered by the Department of the Treasury and available on a rolling basis for the IRA’s duration. Eligible entities—including state, local, and territorial governments, tribal and native entities, rural energy cooperatives, and nonprofits—can apply by filing their annual tax return.
There are two ways eligible entities can receive payments in the form of tax credits for building clean energy projects. The first way—via elective pay provisions—allows qualifying entities to receive a payment equal to their tax credit value. For example, with the clean electricity investment credit, entities will receive a base credit of 6% of their qualified investment. To receive this credit, entities can pre-file with the IRS to register their intended projects and file their tax return by the annual due date. However, if an entity is not eligible for elective pay, it can receive a transfer payment. The second way—via transferability—allows an eligible entity to transfer all or part of its acquired credit to a non-eligible entity in exchange for cash.
Elective pay and transferability motivate entities to engage in the clean energy sector with the prospect of receiving direct payments. These tax credits can also prompt entities to build a green workforce due to federal requirements around apprenticeships and prevailing wages. Apprenticeship requirements apply to taxpayers constructing or repairing certain qualified clean energy facilities, including the number of qualified apprentices or labor hours these apprentices perform. Prevailing wage requirements apply to taxpayers constructing or repairing certain qualified clean energy facilities, who must ensure that all workers are paid an applicable prevailing wage that includes a basic hourly rate plus fringe benefits. In turn, a project employing qualified apprentices and paying prevailing wages increases an entity’s credit by five times. For example, entities executing on projects eligible for tax credits, such as solar and wind facilities or facilities manufacturing clean vehicles, can receive these credits if they meet the apprenticeship and prevailing wage requirements.
While it is unclear what economic impact these tax credits will have, there is obvious potential due to their requirements and expanded eligible entities. Tax credits were previously used with the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, in which clean energy tax credits were estimated to have supported roughly 900,000 jobs. Another popular (but unrelated) tax credit is the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which states use to employ and facilitate access to good jobs for workers, especially those in disadvantaged communities. Still, little precedent exists for the enormous scale of these IRA tax credit programs. Continued monitoring and evaluation will be essential to gauge their ultimate impact on a clean energy economy more broadly—and a green workforce more specifically.
The 54 green-workforce-related programs include multiple timelines to apply for and/or receive funding. Eligible entities, including local leaders, not only have to navigate a complex array of funding streams, but also different windows in which they can access funding to support hiring, training, and recruitment alongside project development.
Following the federal fiscal calendar (starting in October 2022 and ending in September 2023), we analyzed program opening and closing dates by quarter: Q1 (October to December), Q2 (January to March), Q3 (April to June), and Q4 (July to September). Many programs have calendar dates specified on individual agency websites, including in notices of funding availability. But for simplicity and consistency, we provided quarterly ranges instead, which tend to repeat each year. In other words, each program repeats over each annual cycle over the next five to 10 years within the IIJA and IRA. The methodological appendix contains more detailed information on these timelines.
Most green-workforce-related programs have already opened to receive competitive applications or provide formula funding: 34 of the 54 programs, which amounts to $48 billion (nearly 64% of the $75 billion in total funding). Twenty-two of these programs opened prior to Q2 of this year’s federal fiscal calendar (before March 2023), spanning DOE, DOT, EPA, and several other agencies. The 10 green-workforce-related tax credit programs under the Treasury Department are not included among these 34 programs since they are now open on a permanent, rolling basis until the IRA expires.
Many green-workforce-related programs have closed or are about to close as well, at least for the current federal fiscal year. Twenty-three programs totaling $45 billion are closing by the end of Q4 (September 2023), once again including at DOE, DOT, EPA, and several other agencies. Nineteen of these 23 programs ($41 billion) closed in Q3 and Q4, signaling just how recently some of these windows have closed—and will likely close in future cycles of funding (i.e., local leaders should anticipate many programs closing in Q3 and Q4 each year). Individual agencies have yet to announce all future closing dates, but an additional 17 programs totaling $4.3 billion have already announced closing dates throughout FY2024.
The various opening and closing dates for green-workforce-related programs signal the relatively constrained windows that eligible entities must adhere to each year. We found 22 programs that have announced (or at least publicly posted) consistent opening and closing dates, and all of them have award windows under six months. Seventeen of these 22 programs (totaling $24 billion) last under four months, and nine (totaling $20 billion) last under three months. This is all to say that local leaders not only need to know these federal funding opportunities for green workforce development exist, but they also need to be ready to submit timely grant applications.
Among the green-workforce-related programs that have already awarded funding is DOE’s $3 billion Battery Materials Processing Grants Program. The first round of projects and notifications is underway, including for specific businesses that are supporting positions in mineral processing and removing barriers for career growth in advanced manufacturing. Additional programs that have awarded funding include the USDA Forest Service, which allocated $673,000 to the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project to provide jobs and reduce the risk of high-severity wildfires in the wildland-urban interface, as well as $2 million to the Lakeview Stewardship project for recreation and forestry sector jobs.
The IIJA and IRA provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to not only accelerate the transition to a clean economy, but to also recruit, train, and hire a skilled workforce to manage all the improvements for years to come. Yet navigating all the different programs, eligibilities, and flexibilities of this funding to support local green workforce development remains a challenging task—with a relatively short window to do so. Of crucial importance: bridging planning and implementation gaps across a wide range of local entities, from infrastructure owners and operators to workforce and community leaders.
- Infrastructure entities: As utilities, transportation departments, and other infrastructure entities look to complete more projects and hire (and retain) more workers, they need to adjust prevailing internal human resources processes (e.g., local hiring), conduct more proactive community outreach, and assess the types of mission-critical occupations and skill sets needed. Boosting awareness of open positions and providing more flexible pathways for workers to enter and grow their careers (via internships, pre-apprenticeships, and more) is a must to expand the green talent pool—and infrastructure employers are central to that.
- Workforce and community entities: While not always directly eligible for federal infrastructure funding, workforce development boards, community-based organizations, and other entities are essential for preparing and connecting workers to employment opportunities. Doing so includes career guidance, training assistance, and direct service provision, particularly around supportive services such as child care. But it also requires bridging jurisdictional and institutional gaps among infrastructure employers. For example, identifying, measuring, and acting on regional workforce priorities can create a common bridge between different employers, as can more coordinated grant applications or even a common grant writer.
- Educational entities: Community colleges, universities, and other postsecondary institutions are also on the front lines of preparing students and workers for green careers. Direct collaboration with infrastructure employers, including internship programs, can create links for on-the-job training and job placement. But these educational institutions also need to focus on more extensive skills-based preparation for green careers, including developing new green curricula and supporting new green credentials.
- Other local and regional entities: Beyond infrastructure employers and workforce and community leaders, other local government units, local political leadership, and regional bodies (such as metropolitan planning organizations) all have roles to play too. As our September 2022 report on city climate planning illustrated, some of these local and regional bodies are already spearheading new climate action plans and priorities, which should ideally include targeted programming and investments around green workers. That means identifying clearer training timelines, creating more transparent and accountable measures focused on worker outcomes, and emphasizing concrete steps toward greater regional equity.
- State entities: In many cases, all these various local entities will need to coordinate with state departments of transportation, energy offices, and other agencies. Formula programs are especially important ways for state leaders to guide the flow of resources to different climate upgrades and potential workforce development efforts. For instance, traditional budget and planning processes—which may overlook or fail to account for workforce needs across projects—should seek to identify, prioritize, and assess short- and long-term hiring and training needs.
Of course, actually accessing new and expanded federal infrastructure funding takes concerted efforts among local leaders too. Below are a few steps to support more nimble and responsive applications based on the analysis in this report.
- Establish closer formal (or informal) collaborations among multiple local entities to apply for funding. Individual infrastructure entities in individual jurisdictions—such as a transportation department in one city versus a transportation department in a neighboring city—continue to compete against each other for federal funding. But there is an opportunity for multiple infrastructure entities in multiple jurisdictions to submit coordinated applications, to say nothing of all the other entities (in the education and nonprofit space, for instance) who can and should be at the table. Nonprofit entities, for instance, could serve as grant writers for these broader collaborations, rather than an individual infrastructure entity going solo with limited time or staffing capacity to even consider green workforce development issues.
- Apply for funding across multiple agencies and programs. Since there is no single pot of funding to support green workforce development, local leaders have at least 54 different programs to consider across DOE, DOT, EPA, and several other agencies. And it is likely that even more programs will come online as agencies release additional guidance on workforce eligibilities in new notices of funding availability. In turn, local leaders should pursue a variety of options to support ongoing training efforts while remaining vigilant of new opportunities that are continuing to emerge.
- Be proactive and mindful of application timelines. The short window to apply for some competitive grant opportunities means that local leaders cannot sit on their hands for too long. Each annual cycle offers a new opportunity to seize funding for potential projects and green workforce development efforts, but with only a few months to apply in certain cases, local leaders need to be ready to hit the ground running, armed with clearly articulated proposals and benchmarks for action.
Just as there is no single source of federal funding to support green workforce development, there is no single approach for local leaders to maximize the reach and impact of this funding. Infrastructure owners and operators alongside local workforce, community, and educational entities need to come together and overcome long-standing gaps around hiring, training, and recruitment. Amid tight project timelines and narrow application windows, there are considerable barriers to do so. Yet there are enormous federal carrots available to those entities that demonstrate a willingness and capacity to experiment with new green workforce development approaches—and the economic returns could be historic as well.
Acknowledgements and disclosures
The authors would like to thank Martha Ross and Angela Zhang for their methodological input.
Brookings Metro would like to thank the following for their generous support of this analysis, and Brookings Metro’s infrastructure work more broadly: the San Diego Regional Policy and Innovation Center, the San Diego Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation. Brookings Metro is also grateful to the Metropolitan Council, a network of business, civic, and philanthropic leaders that provides both financial and intellectual partners of the Program.