(Bloomberg) --

You may have heard that the US is in the midst of a manufacturing boom. Thanks to a combination of the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS Act and a general interest in re-shoring US capacity, manufacturers’ construction spending has reached an annual rate of $190 billion. That is double the rate of just a year ago. Manufacturing as a share of US private-sector construction has not been this high since at least 1990, when government data sets begin. 

Much of that construction is semiconductor fabrication plants, while another large portion is facilities for making electric vehicles, batteries and clean energy equipment such as solar panels. Regardless of the exact end product, the workforce building these factories and making these goods is growing, and it now has a chance to upskill itself in a climate-positive way. 

Two trades key to the construction sector, engineering and electrical, are already in record employment territory. Heavy and civil engineering employment has rebounded from its pandemic-era low to more than 1.1 million last month. As of April, electrical contractors number more than a million as well. 

With the US government providing potentially $1 trillion of capital under the energy and climate provisions of the IRA, employment in skilled construction, engineering and electrical roles will almost certainly increase further. That presents opportunities for creating new, durable skills within growing trades. 

Three opportunities in particular come to mind, which bridge today’s labor force to tomorrow’s demand and its climate imperatives.

The first is training in the most energy-efficient building techniques. That includes learning what the most efficient materials are and how best to install them to reduce the heating or cooling needs of manufacturing facilities. It could also include training on heat pump installation and integration. Heat pumps are  not just for residential or commercial applications , after all (though their useful temperatures top out at around 400F or 200C, too low for some industrial processes). 

This training might also cover integrating renewable power into tomorrow’s factories. Flat roofs are a ready-made home for solar power, and large construction sites could host batteries. 

The second opportunity is to train civil engineers in building for a more volatile climate, one that is consistently drier but periodically wetter, generally warmer but at times shockingly cold. That is important for the construction of buildings themselves, of course, but equally so for earlier stages of that process. Site selection and preparation must now contend with more extreme conditions. A professional labor force adept at anticipating new extremes — and working to accommodate them in the most economical way possible — will be essential. 

A final opportunity is less concrete (literally), but extremely important. That is developing a workforce comfortable with (and capable of) quick, streamlined planning and approval processes. 

There is a reason that energy professionals of all political persuasions and across technology fields talk about speeding up US permitting. We have lots of new energy and climate assets that need building and  lots of companies that want to build them . 

Getting the interconnection queue for the power grid moving is mostly the domain of lawmakers, regulators and other government officials. It is not strictly in the realm of factory builders and operators. But every aspect of the post-IRA US climate boom should move as quickly as possible so we can decarbonize the economy as much as possible.

The growing skilled labor force of today’s manufacturing boom can lead by example with fast, efficient project timelines, and ideally provide the impetus for the same pace in other sectors. 

Nat Bullard is a senior contributor to BloombergNEF and writes the Sparklines column for Bloomberg Green. He advises early-stage climate technology companies and climate investors.

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