Report says green economy producing jobs, but urges work quality improvement

UC BErkeley News Center, March 17, 2011

By Kathleen Maclay

BERKELEY – To achieve the state’s energy efficiency goals and provide better career opportunities for Californians, the state should modify its clean energy programs and its extensive but fragmented training and education programs, according to a report led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, released today (Thursday, March 17).

The report offers the first comprehensive analysis of the job impacts and workforce preparation issues from state and federal policies and programs set up to improve energy efficiency in homes and businesses, reduce peak energy demand, and develop localized renewable energy generation in California.

"California’s energy efficiency policies will provide significant numbers of jobs in an era of persistent high unemployment, volatile oil prices and economic instability," said Carol Zabin, one of the lead authors of the report and co-director of UC Berkeley’s Donald Vial Center for Employment in the Green Economy.

The report, "California Workforce Education and Training Needs Assessment for Energy Efficiency, Demand Response and Distributed Generation," was mandated by the California Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan and funded by the state’s utility ratepayers, under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission.

"California has always been in the forefront of clean energy and energy conservation," said California Public Utilities Commission President Michael R. Peevey. "After 30 years of promoting energy efficiency, this report not only provides a timely account for how these efforts currently shape California’s labor economy during the worst recession since the Great Depression, but also provides a glimpse into the future for how California can continue to promote an energy efficient economy that positively impacts not only our leadership in promoting the green economy generally, but also our recovering labor market."

The study forecasts about $11.2 billion worth of public and private investments in energy efficiency in California by the year 2020, up from $6.6 billion in 2010. This investment will create about 211,000 jobs in 2020. The jobs – which represent one year of full-time work – will result not just from the direct investment but also from the indirect demand generated by this increase in economic activity. The jobs will be distributed throughout the economy, not just in "green" businesses or occupations."

"The jobs will be distributed throughout the economy, not just in "green" businesses or occupations," said Karen Chapple, co-author and UC Berkeley associate professor of city and regional planning.

The future jobs that are directly related to energy efficiency work – and thus in need of "green" training – are primarily in traditional construction trades, such electricians, carpenters and sheet metal workers, and the researchers said that very few are in new specialized "green" occupations such as energy auditors or solar installers.

The researchers dismiss fears about shortages of new workers for energy-efficiency and related jobs as unwarranted, through at least 2020, because of the long queue of unemployed workers already in the main occupations

However, they said there are serious concerns about work quality. Prior research revealed that poor quality installation and maintenance of energy efficient equipment and materials is common in some sectors, such as residential retrofitting and air conditioning, and the UC Berkeley team found that this low quality is correlated with low wages and high worker turnover.

Zabin and the other researchers warned that unless building codes and other regulations are enforced, quality standards are placed on contractors, skill certifications are required, and workers are rewarded for acquiring skills with higher wages, these quality problems will undermine efforts to achieve energy efficiency goals and to create good jobs for Californians. Job training is necessary, but not sufficient to improve quality, they added.

Their exploration of education and training programs found more than 1,000 training programs throughout the state already offering basic to advanced training for the most in-demand occupations. These are located in four-year colleges, community colleges, state-certified apprenticeship programs, utility training centers, private training organizations, community-based organizations and high school career technical programs.

Concerns about shortages of jobs for graduates from education and training programs are real and likely to persist through 2020, particularly for those with less than four years of college, so emphasis should be placed on revamping and leveraging existing training programs, the researchers noted in their report.

The research also revealed that the training and education system works much better for professionals and apprenticeship-based commercial construction trades workers than for workers in the residential sector, where low wages and lack of career pathways are common. This is problematic, according to the report, because the residential sector is key to improving energy efficiency and is the focus of major retrofit policy efforts and programs.

To help California meet its energy efficiency goals and maximize the related job opportunities, the researchers recommend the following actions:

  • Continue and strengthen policies and programs to improve energy efficiency, reduce peak demand and develop localized distributed energy generation.
  • Set clear skill certification requirements for workers doing energy efficiency work and encourage businesses to adopt them, particularly as new technologies are introduced.
  • Support employers who invest in a stable, higher skill and higher wage workforce by enforcing building codes and other regulations, by setting standards on contractors who receive public and ratepayer funded incentives or contracts, and by requiring skill certifications for workers
  • Focus workforce education and training on "greening" the traditional trade occupations, rather than creating new narrow and short-term energy efficiency-specific training programs.
  • Support state-certified apprenticeships and improve coordination between community colleges programs and apprenticeships.
  • Support strong on-ramps into professional jobs and apprenticeship for Californians from disadvantaged communities through career technical education and pre-apprenticeship programs in high-school and community colleges.

Assisting with the report were the California Community College Centers of Excellence and Research into Action Inc., a research firm specializing in energy efficiency and related issues.

The full report can be found online at www.irle.berkeley.edu/vial. The CPUC links to the report at www.engage360.com.

 

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