UC Berkeley to guide job-training reboot for green economy

California’s Public Utilities Commission has turned to UC Berkeley to coordinate an overhaul of workforce development as part of the statewide effort to curb energy use, mitigate climate change and establish the Golden State as a model green economy.

Beginning this month, the Donald Vial Center for Employment in the Green Economy — part of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at Berkeley — will serve as lead consultant on workforce education and training for California investor-owned utilities’ energy efficiency programs. The $500,000 contract runs through spring 2014.

The project team will work closely with investor-owned utilities like PG&E to implement improvements in training programs designed to help blue-collar workers, white-collar professionals, job seekers and skilled tradespeople across a range of industries to acquire greener skills.

“Whether they’re electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, pipefitters, carpenters or laborers, ensuring workers have up-to-date skills is critical to achieving the state’s energy-efficiency goals,” says Jessica Halpern-Finnerty, a policy analyst at the Vial Center. “Improving the quality of installation of energy-efficiency equipment and materials is a major focus for us, because if we’re not doing the work as well as we could then we’re losing much of the potential benefit of energy-efficient technologies.”

Emphasizing the need to build on existing infrastructure and partnerships, the project team will look to coordinate and align programs with the state’s established education and training system. Researchers will work with utilities, colleges and technical schools to incorporate emerging knowledge and skills related to energy efficiency into community-college curricula and certified-apprenticeship programs.

In guiding implementation workforce-training improvements, the project team will build on the extensive research conducted by the Vial Center for a recent workforce education and training needs assessment. The center’s 2011 report forecast public and private investment in energy efficiency would exceed $11 billion in California by 2020, with the hefty funding influx predicted to create roughly 78,000 direct jobs across the state.

The effort to refocus job training is designed to better support the state’s long-term strategic plan for energy efficiency in meeting California’s carbon-emissions reduction goals. The 2008 strategic plan identified workforce education and training as essential to the success of energy-efficiency programs, which investor-owned utilities, such as PG&E, are responsible for implementing.

As lead consultant, the Vial Center will draw on the issue-specific expertise of project partners including the Career Ladders Project, a California Community Colleges initiative that works to strengthen educational and career-advancement pathways for youths and adults from underserved communities.

The project team also includes Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors, a public policy and community development consulting firm, as well as labor and environmental health researchers at Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

“What we bring to the table is a uniquely qualified team of experts and practitioners with extensive knowledge of California’s utilities sector, regulatory landscape, environmental policy, training and technology,” Halpern-Finnerty says. “Our team brings a blend of practical experience working with a broad range of stakeholders across areas of energy-efficiency programs, workforce development and equity and inclusion.”

Over the coming months, the team will work with the utilities, labor unions, regional employment boards and nonprofits to expand outreach efforts to underserved and disadvantaged communities.