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Green Jobs in CA Projected to Rise 7%

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Thursday, August 17, 2023   

By Laura Aka for WorkingNation.
Broadcast version by Suzanne Potter for California News Service reporting for the WorkingNation-Public News Service Collaboration.


With more than 39 million people , California is the most populous state in the country. Unofficially divided into northern, central, and southern regions, the state has beaches, deserts, farmland, and mountains.

"California is probably unique in its diversity. It's almost not one state economy. It's maybe 10 or 14 regional economies depending on how you look at how industry sectors are organized," says Tim Rainey, executive director, California Workforce Development Board.

The outlook for the green economy is as far-reaching as the state itself. "We're doing everything in California with an eye toward reducing carbon in the atmosphere. In a way, you could almost define everything we do in California as green jobs," says Rainey.

According to our report Green Jobs Now: California, a new WorkingNation and Lightcast analysis of the green labor market in the state, there are already more than 210,593 workers in California's green economy.

The report projects in the next five years, employment for green jobs in the state will increase by 7.1%, well above the national average of 5.7%.

Assembly Bill 398 - intended to mitigate climate change - also calls for the creation of good jobs.

When passed, the legislation tasked the California Workforce Development Board to report "on the need for increased education, career technical education, job training, and workforce development resources or capacity to help industry, workers, and communities transition to economic and labor-market changes related to specified statewide greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals."

A 2020 report from the UC Berkeley Labor Center offers a breakdown of AB 398, stating, "California has emerged as a national and world leader in the fight to avoid climate disaster, passing a comprehensive and evolving suite of climate measures to accelerate the transition to a carbon-neutral economy."

Putting California on the High Road: A Jobs and Climate Action Plan for 2030 also says, "The state has also emerged as a national leader in embracing economic equity as a goal for state policy."

Rainey notes, "We need to be really clear that when we talk about jobs, we have to focus on quality jobs. And if we want to achieve equity, you can't separate quality jobs from equity. We're not going to put poor people in bad jobs because that's not going to move the needle in equity."

"Our state and federal governments are investing historic levels of funding in infrastructure focused on climate, green jobs. We have an opportunity to put in those investments workforce standards that help set up our ability to put people in good jobs."

Rainey points out, "The employment is going to be in those traditional occupations that largely don't require college degrees. As the demand for apprentices increases, the demand for construction workers increases - filling the pipeline in a way that has real intentionality around impacting equity is our focus. We have really beautiful programs across the state we call high-road construction careers that do just that."

"Our role in is to fill the pipeline with people who don't look like your traditional tradespeople - more women, more people of color, lots of focus on the formerly incarcerated - so we can start getting at those equity goals and showing that in the data."

Green Jobs Growth in The Golden State

"Workers with green skills are also spreading across a wide range of industries - such as utilities, manufacturing, and professional services - illustrating the increasing need for green skills across California's economy," according to Green Jobs Now: California.

California's Green Workforce is Moderate and Growing: As stated, there are over 210,593 workers in California's green economy, and there were 53,587 green job openings in the state in 2022.

By comparison, this is more than twice the number of Pharmacy Technicians and Forklift / Pallet Jack Operators demanded in California in 2022.

Demand for Green Enabled Jobs is Strong and Green Jobs Are Spreading Across Industries: Demand for green enabled jobs, that is, workers in roles that are not considered green by default, but who are required to have at least one green skill or competency, is significant, with 38,455 openings in 2022.

Workers with green skills are also spreading across a wide range of industries - such as Utilities, Manufacturing, and Professional Services - illustrating the increasing need for green skills across California's economy.

What is a Green Job?

We look at four different categories when we break down the opportunities in the green jobs ecosystem.

Core jobs have "a primary responsibility associated with the green economy." The data indicates a top core green job in California is a solar sales representative.

Enabled jobs have "primary responsibilities separate or tangential to the green economy" with building and general maintenance technicians identified as primary jobs.

Not to be confused with enabled jobs, enabling jobs "aren't associated with green tech per se, but they support the green economy."

Green Jobs Now: California finds there are about 5.8 million workers in the state who, with new skills, could be green workers. "These workers come from a variety of different occupations and educational backgrounds and reskilling them could build the pipeline of green workers faster than relying on new postsecondary graduates alone."

"However, doing so will require a mix of training program formats that support the reskilling and redeployment of these workers."

The most in-demand skills related to core green jobs in California are solar sales and solar energy.

The report says, "For workers in many core and enabled occupations, there is a significant salary boost for having green skills and competencies on their resume." For example, a quality inspector/technician commands an average annual salary boost of more than $8,000.

Findings state, "From the most in-demand green skills, workers interested in entering the green workforce can prioritize what skills and competencies to acquire."

Key green skills offer significant annual salary increases of $1,600 for skills related to wind power and $5,800 for carbon management skills.

According to the data, the average green jobs salary in California is $67,252.

California's Agricultural Sector

"Over a third of the country's vegetables and three-quarters of the country's fruits and nuts are grown in California," according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (GDFA). "In 2021 California's farms and ranches received $51.1 billion in cash receipts for their output."

The farming community increasingly shows strong interest in sustainability, according to Steve Lyle, director of public affairs for the department. "CDFA's climate-smart agriculture incentive programs have continued to grow in popularity such that now they are oversubscribed every year."

"The purpose of our incentive programs is to support them in taking those first steps of trying new sustainable practices in their operations, and hopefully making a business case for continuing those practices beyond the lifetime of their CDFA grants."

Lyle offers advice for the agricultural community, "Take advantage of climate-smart programs, like OEFI [Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation] offers, and the technical assistance its vast network provides to understand which programs and systems will work best for any given farmer or grower in California."

He explains that technical assistance - which is provided to farmers and ranchers at no cost - can include support through the "planning, execution, and closeout processes of our soils, water efficiency, and manure management incentive programs, in addition to funding some programs that offer broader technical assistance for conservation agriculture."

Lyle notes, "Many colleges and universities offer certificate programs in agricultural sustainability." These include UC Davis's bachelor of science degree in sustainable agriculture and food systems and Santa Rosa Junior College's associate degree and two certificates in sustainable agriculture.

Looking forward, he says, "We believe that farmers and ranchers see the challenges of a changing climate and want to pursue strategies that increase their resiliency while being good stewards of the land for future generations."

Pathway into Green Infrastructure

"Since our formation, we've been bringing labor and environmental groups together to really tackle labor and climate issues at the same time," says JB Tengco, vice president of state affairs at BlueGreen Alliance - which includes 10 state-based teams, including California.

Tengco notes that addressing the mission in California is "complicated."

"If you look at California - from the size of its economy, the size of its energy need, the energy diversity that we have here, we have everything you can think about in terms of needs for the economy and to really help the state operate. When you add all that together, the complexity of what we're trying to accomplish with the energy transition is definitely daunting and big."

"I think a lot of folks within the state - from elected officials, to working families, to labor, to industry - are really looking at how do we ensure, that as our energy generation and our energy needs change, that we're doing so in a way that creates good jobs."

Referencing state legislation, Tengco says, "The AB 398 report tries to map out different sets of labor levers to go with climate policy."

He continues, "Climate policy has two components, the climate policy and the proactive labor lever. It's the combination that ensures that you create good jobs. We know there's a difference between a job and a good job."

Tengco notes, "Labor has clearly led on addressing some of those issues around systemic inequality. Historically, you've seen that for a lot of people of color, their abilities to get higher wages, promotion paths, health care have come from working with labor. We've seen a lot of opportunities for people of color to have jobs that are family-sustaining. California has done a lot to recruit from targeted communities - be it people of color, formerly incarcerated, women - into the trades themselves."

Opportunities in the Green Economy

"In the clean energy space, we clearly see the energy generation - from renewables like solar and wind, both onshore and offshore as areas for good job creation," says Tengco.

"As we look at trying to build new energy generation facilities, more and more of that is done with labor. Also, as we move to making buildings more energy-efficient, there's been a lot of good labor work within that. I think increasingly as we look at manufacturing, both California and the country are really thinking through how do we onshore manufacturing? How do we do so in a way that leads to good jobs?"

"What you're seeing is a lot of the crafts continuing work and expanding their work as new opportunities arise. When you really think of what solar generation is, it's energy generation. Electricians who have been working on powering homes, powering buildings, powering industrial sites, solar is just another mechanism to create electricity. You're actually seeing a lot of the trades move that way and have already incorporated a lot of these new technologies in their trainings."

"You see the same with HVAC systems, right? HVAC systems create clean air within schools, hospitals, and whatnot. As that technology changes to become cleaner, they're moving into or expanding their skillset to work on different types of [cleaner] technologies."

An Oakland-Based Nonprofit is Creating Access to Quality Jobs

"Rising Sun as a pre-apprenticeship program is exactly the type of program that the trades partner with to ensure that they are getting people of color, women, local hires into the trades," explains Tengco.

"We've always had this mission that's been at the intersection of equity, climate, and jobs," says Julia Hatton, president and CEO at Rising Sun Center for Opportunity - an Oakland workforce development organization that provides training and employment programs.

Originally founded in 1994, Hatton explains the organization's current Climate Careers program was spearheaded by a student-led effort in 2000. "We had staff who were teaching a class on climate change at Berkeley High. It was actually the students in that class who decided that they didn't want to just learn about this stuff. They wanted to go out and make a difference in their own communities. They went to the homes of their friends and neighbors and took out the old inefficient lighting and water fixtures, and replaced them with new, efficient versions of those things."

"We now run that program across the 10-county area in the Bay Area and Central Valley. The emphasis of that program is the youth employment and the youth development piece - giving young people, not just their first green job, but their first [paid] job. Period."

Climate Careers whose participants are between the ages of 15 to 24 - includes a leadership pathway for the older youth.

After a week of paid training, the participants work during the summer months making green house calls. From September through November, the youth are placed in paid externships with partners working in the climate space. Among them - Redwood Energy, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Stockton Service Corps.

"We collect feedback cards from every green house call - to see the feedback that comes back about the young people, 'They were so professional. I'm so impressed I learned this thing that I didn't know. I want to hear more from these kids. The youth are our future.' That can be really transformative. On the youth side, it's empowering to know that adults react in that way."

About 80 youth participate in the program, visiting about 3,000 households during the summer - with wages at about $19 an hour.

Pathway Into Union Membership

Rising Sun's Opportunity Build - an industry-certified construction training program - provides a path to union apprenticeship in the skilled trades. "One of the key things that union membership offers is that ongoing training, retraining, and reskilling," says Hatton.

The organization has three cohorts around the skilled trades training.

"We have an all-women's cohort called Women Building the Bay. We have a nights and weekends cohort that runs in the summer that's tailored for folks who might have a job that they need to be at during the day. And then we have a regular cohort in the fall. Across all the cohorts, at least 55% of our participants are women. About 40% are system-impacted which could include coming home from incarceration or having other interaction with the justice system. All of our participants in Opportunity Build are facing some pretty high barriers to employment" - including housing instability and food insecurity.

"We do 10 to 12 weeks of training, but then it's 12 additional months of services after they graduate to support the job placement, the job retention, and, ultimately, the career advancement."

Participants might receive a stipend of a thousand dollars and support services that can include initial union dues, unpaid parking tickets, rent, and childcare.

The Need for Union Labor

"Wind turbines or our highways and roadways - making sure those are going be resilient to climate change, to heat, to flooding, to whatever it is. That's union labor. That's organized labor. That's the building and construction trades," Hatton points out.

She says IBEW Local 332 is well-suited to provide skills training, "They have whole classrooms, whole labs dedicated to battery storage training to EV charging, all those things. When you think about climate infrastructure, that's union labor."

Regarding UA Local 342, Hatton notes, "They're training their apprentices on heat pumps and that's a huge piece when you're looking at building electrification and decarbonization, right?"

Employment in the green sector must mean - not just a job - but a quality job, explains Hatton. "There is an interesting differentiation between residential sector work and work that tends to be organized and unionized which, not exclusively, tends to be more at the commercial or infrastructure scale. That differentiation is really important when you start thinking about job quality."

One Apprentice's Journey

"I took a liking to construction through my grandfather. I found it interesting watching my grandfather work on the sink or rebuild his kitchen, his bathroom, his roof," recalls Ashley Lewis, now a laborer apprentice, Turner Construction Company in Oakland.

"He would just catch me standing there just watching him and he'd just be like, 'Why don't you come over and help?' I'd help lay tiles on the floor, help him replace a couple pipes underneath the sink. I learned to paint a room with my grandfather."

Lewis initially applied for the Rising Sun pre-apprenticeship program a few years ago but the training opportunity was put on hold due to the pandemic. When programming resumed, Lewis applied for the February 2022 all-women cohort with about 20 participants.

She says, "It was all women. I loved that women empowerment, that unity, that sisterhood. We all built a really great bond."

The Rising Sun training gave the participants a lot of experience, notes Lewis. "We ended up getting lots of hands-on training with different tools you might use in different trades like cementing, woodcutting, leveling, mapping."

Prior to her pre-apprenticeship training at Rising Sun, Lewis did in-home care and worked at various odd jobs. Her laborer apprenticeship with Turner began in February of this year.

Lewis is currently working on a project at Oakland International Airport. She says the company has protocols in place to be environmentally safe. "Because there's a lot of welding, a lot of different equipment and chemicals being used, they have these big filtering fans throughout the [walled-off] areas where we're working. That way the fumes and the dust - everything [is kept] at a minimum."

"We don't know how old certain things in the airport are - so trying to keep things contained and from spreading, we have the air filtration systems constantly going and making sure that not only are we safe, but everyone outside the walls is safe."

She says her company is employing green practices in its work. "I think Turner is definitely keeping that in mind. I see all the different recycling bins for metal, for waste, for miscellaneous items. And making sure, because we're at the airport, it doesn't get into the water because we're surrounded by the water. And making sure other things stay covered, locked, and secured.

She continues, "I see them taking steps, putting signs up around the airport, letting people know that there's construction work going on and how we have restricted zones."

Lewis hopes her union pathway will lead to her becoming a journeyman.

The Green Economy and Quality Green Jobs

"You bring in the workforce training components that skill people up so they can take those jobs. You can do that across these investments in ways that really drive not just improving the infrastructure, but really gets to regional and local economic development that starts to impact employment in regions," says the CWDB's Rainey.

Tengco of BlueGreen Alliance says, "When I first started working with BlueGreen, I talked to elected officials, I talked to companies, I talked to a whole host of different allies and partners. We talked about addressing environmental issues, and we talked about the need to create good jobs. Often, I had to answer the question, 'Why do we need to create good jobs? Why do we have to be proactive? Aren't we creating jobs? Isn't that good enough?' I'd say over the years, that the question is no longer 'Why?' but 'How?' And that is what makes me optimistic about what we do."

Rising Sun's Hatton says, "The quality of those jobs is so essentially important. Not just the wages, but the benefits, the scheduling, the worker protections, all of those pieces. It's not just the training. It's all the wraparound pieces, all the supportive services, making sure there are pathways, and that people are prepared to advance on those pathways."

"You have the climate part of the mission that's so important. It has to happen fast and it has to happen everywhere, but how can we make sure those opportunities are also uplifting economically? That's a big question."

Apprentice Lewis frequently talks with her grandfather about her career pathway. "He says, 'When you enjoy something, it doesn't matter what you're doing. Time doesn't exist and before you know it, your day is over.' My grandpa was at the school district for over 30 years and he retired - now I see what he meant because he stayed there for 30 years."


Laura Aka wrote this article for WorkingNation.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.


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