America’s energy sector is transforming as a result of investments in smart energy grids, increased use of renewables and rising oil and gas generation. The changes taking place within this area of the economy are important to all Americans, both as consumers and as part of the workforce. After all, all of us use energy. And we all care about the environment in which we live and raise our families. Beyond that, the energy sector is projected to have nearly 1.9 million job opportunities available through 2035, many of which are high paying positions that cannot be outsourced.

As an organization focused on enabling African Americans and other underserved urban residents to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights, the National Urban League (NUL) recognizes this transformation as a critical moment in time. Today, African Americans have a unique opportunity to grab hold of and participate in the energy industry as consumers, entrepreneurs, senior corporate leaders and employees. It is also the right time to ensure the benefits wrought by this change do not create energy “haves” and “have-nots,” but are realized equally throughout our society.

Donald Cravins Jr. (LinkedIn Photo)

To work toward both of these objectives, The National Urban League, along with various Urban Solutions Council partners, has undertaken an effort to identify economic opportunities for African Americans pertaining to the energy industry. As part of this effort, I wrote a report titled 21st Century Innovations In Energy: An Equity Framework, which concludes that as the energy industry revolutionizes, the employment and economic opportunities for African Americans and other minorities could be immense. That said, realizing them will require the right training and preparation.

The report further identifies that key emphasis should be placed on raising awareness of and developing the skills that will enable African Americans to participate and thrive in the energy sector such as: science, engineering, math, technology, entrepreneurship, technical training and consumer advocacy. The report concludes by launching NUL’s Energy Plan, which provides a framework for building both dialogue and partnerships with the various aspects of the energy industry on this critical issue of importance to the NUL, its mission and its constituency.

We cannot ignore the fact that good jobs will be available in all segments of the energy sector, nor the role the energy industry can play as a conduit to achieving our mission of enabling African Americans and other underserved urban residents to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.

We are convinced that —through proper education, engagement and advocacy— African Americans can take advantage of this important changes in the energy industry. We have the power to ensure that the future of the industry is diverse in both its workforce and its downstream ecosystem, and that the benefits to be derived as a result of innovation and investment in the energy industry are shared by all.

Donald Cravins Jr. serves as the National Urban League’s Senior Vice President for Policy and Executive Director of the Washington Bureau. Cravins leads the development of the National Urban League’s policy, research and advocacy agenda, while expending the organization’s impact and influence inside the Capital Beltway.