A new study from the University of California – Berkeley has put a number on the impact that new energy conservation laws can have on an economy. According to the study, the implementation of the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) will motivate about $11.2 billion in energy efficiency investments by 2020, and create about 211,000 jobs. This is no big news to anyone who has been tracking the job-creating potential of green investments elsewhere in the U.S. but the study does reveal some surprising insights into the nature and skills of those jobs.
California’s New Green Jobs Study
Under the somewhat cumbersome title, “California Workforce Education and Training Needs Assessment for Energy Efficiency, Demand Response and Distributed Generation,” the study addresses employment-related obstacles to meeting energy conservation goals. Specifically, that would be a shortage of workers with sufficient training to install energy efficient equipment and materials correctly, and safely. Though the researchers are quick to allay fears of a general worker shortage, they do identify inadequate skills as a significant issue, which could lead to low quality work that drags down the energy conservation industry’s ability to respond to legislative goals.
Traditional Skills and New Green Jobs
As one surprise, the study debunks any preconceived notion that the new green economy depends primarily on workers learning new future-tech skills. In fact, the researchers found that the bulk of energy efficiency work involves traditional construction trades including electricians and carpenters. Independent contractors, union members and other skilled workers periodically update their training in response to new materials, tools and equipment, and the researchers foresee that these workers will adapt themselves in a similar way as new efficiency-related products come on the market.
Green Skills and Building Codes
However, the researchers emphasize that self-motivated or union-based training is not sufficient to ensure high quality work on an industry-wide basis. A foundational skill certification will be needed to ensure that all workers acquire the appropriate training. The researchers suggest that such programs could be ramped up relatively quickly, by tweaking existing skill training resources (community colleges, apprenticeships, utility-sponsored courses, etc.) to provide conservation-related education. By far the bulk of energy efficiency work directly involves buildings, so the development and enforcement of appropriate building codes will also play a key role.
A Green Role for Unions
Job training and certification is only part of the quality-assurance picture, however. The researchers correlate low quality work to low wages and high turnover in the residential sector, meaning that goals will lag in this area unless conservation workers are unionized, or at least until there are incentives for employers to hire trained, certified workers, with a wage and benefit scale that mitigates high turnover.
An Edge for Serious Conservation Companies
The report effectively makes the case for establishing a network of training centers, along with a framework of government support that rewards employers for developing a skilled and stable (in other words, well-paid) energy conservation workforce. The companies that will be ahead of the game will be the ones that can treat workers as a long term investment, rather than a series of temporary hires.
Image: Tool belt by blue diamond photography on flickr.com.