Building a Clean Energy Workforce

Preparing Californians for New Opportunities in the State's Green Economy

California has taken strong action to promote cleaner cars, increase the amount of power it receives from renewable sources, and reduce emissions of global warming pollutants from throughout its economy. These policies have put California on a path toward cleaner air and improved public health, but fully achieving all potential environmental benefits will require the day-to-day work of tens of thousands of people trained in designing, implementing and repairing green technologies. Building a Clean Energy Workforce reviews the depth of green job training programs in the state and how they provide unique points of entry for California workers into the clean energy economy.

California’s ground-breaking clean energy and environmental policies are creating new economic and job opportunities.

To deal with the challenging problems of air pollution, fossil fuel dependence and greenhouse gas emissions, the state has established a suite of policies that promote energy efficiency and clean sources of energy such as wind and solar. The implementation of these policies has already created new opportunities for trained workers, but in order to make California’s clean energy economy a long-term reality, California must continue to expand the market for clean energy as well as create a permanent workforce trained in green technologies and practices. Job training programs are a critical engine for developing such a workforce to achieve the state’s environmental and economic goals.

California is already making great strides, with hundreds of programs around the state training thousands of workers with the skills they will need to meet the demands of this new economy, from installing solar panels to improving building efficiency to servicing electric vehicles.

There are at least 298 green job training programs in California, offered by 130 institutions. These programs include multi-year apprenticeships, community college programs for career entry, and short-term certification-preparation courses for unemployed or underemployed workers. They include programs focused on energy efficiency, renewable energy construction and maintenance, alternative transportation fuels, and electric vehicle-related design and maintenance jobs. However, this total excludes many other programs—such as programs in architecture or engineering—that are relevant to the clean energy economy, but that train workers for non-energy related work.

Through our outreach efforts, we received enrollment information concerning 111 of these programs, in which 12,600 to 15,100 students are enrolled annually.

  • Of the 64 institutions who responded to our query, 19 offer college credit or some sort of completion certificate, 10 offer associate’s or bachelor’s degrees, and 32 institutions offer programs that either result in an industry-recognized certification or qualify students to sit for a certification exam.
  • Community and technical college programs tend to focus primarily on energy efficiency, green building, and solar energy. Clean vehicle and other renewable energy programs are also common, while wind energy represents a much smaller portion of community and technical college programs.

Five case studies in this report highlight how each type of training program has a unique role in preparing workers to make the state’s clean energy goals a reality. For example:

  • Putting people back to work: Underemployed construction workers can gain new skills and knowledge through short-term training programs to obtain certification in green energy practices, such as heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) retrofits or green plumbing. CleanEdison, one of the nation’s largest green job training firms, enrolls more than 1,200 California students in clean energy programs per year.
  • Model partnerships: Laney College in Oakland provides training through a partnership with non-profit organizations, workforce investment boards, and job placement agencies. Laney is able to tailor its trainings to supplement the skills that students already have. This four-pronged partnership has become the model for the new, statewide California Green Job Corps Program.
  • Pathways for all: technical colleges, such as Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, attract new students of all backgrounds and skill levels. Students receive hands-on training that gives them an entry point into the clean energy economy.
  • Skill upgrades for union workers: Union training programs are integrating “green” skills into their existing apprenticeship programs.
  • Teaching the teachers: There is a shortage of training programs for instructors of green technologies and techniques. In order to ensure consistency and quality among clean energy training programs, and to allow for the expansion of such programs, Hands On Solar, Inc., trains teachers through workshops and site visits.

Job training programs in California are essential to successful implementation of the state’s policies, which are designed to spur investment in infrastructure for sustainable energy. Without adequately trained workers, California will not be able to meet the goals of its clean energy policies.

California has established ambitious goals to promote energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy sources.

  • California’s renewable electricity standard requires that 33 percent of the electricity consumed in the state in 2020 come from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal.
  • Reaching the goals of the Million Solar Roofs Initiative will require outfitting the equivalent of 1,000,000 rooftops in California with solar panels.
  • Policies to promote solar water heating call for installing 200,000 new solar water heaters by 2017.
  • The state’s aggressive energy efficiency standards for new buildings will require improved construction techniques in millions of new structures.

California’s Clean Cars Program and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard will result in sweeping changes in vehicle and fuel technology.

  • If the latest updates to the Clean Cars Program are adopted, up to 14 percent of new vehicles sold in California in 2025 could be electric vehicles and up to 68 percent could be hybrids.
  • Because of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, cleaner fuels will gradually replace gasoline. By 2020, up to 3.5 million cars could operate on 85 percent ethanol fuel, most of which would be cellulosic or advanced ethanol rather than the corn ethanol in use today.

California’s strong clean energy policies have already benefited the state’s broader economy, energizing new growth in clean energy industries.

  • Approximately 40 percent of global clean technology-oriented venture capital comes to California. Businesses and institutions in California have received $11.6 billion worth of clean technology venture capital funding since 2006, supporting clean energy, energy efficiency, green transportation, energy infrastructure and storage, materials research, and other activities.
  • From 2007 to 2008, even as unemployment increased during the early stages of the economic downturn, employment in the green sector increased by 5 percent.
  • More than 500,000 employees currently work in “green jobs” in the state, and the energy efficiency sector is projected to employ two to four times as many workers in 2020 compared to 2008.
  • 75,000 workers will have to be trained for energy efficiency jobs in the next decade to meet the demand for labor in 2020.

To ensure continued growth of the clean energy economy and new job opportunities, California must maintain its commitment to policies that will help the state develop a clean energy future. Strong energy policies will help drive job growth, and solid training programs will help to create the workforce needed to implement those policies. Specifically, California should:

  • Ensure that the requirements outlined in clean energy, clean cars and global warming legislation are enforced, prompting governments and private companies to continue to invest in clean energy infrastructure and technology.
  • Maintain California’s momentum toward a clean energy economy after current goals are achieved: obtain a higher percentage of electricity from renewable sources, install solar panels on more rooftops, seek out additional energy efficiency savings, and continue to reduce emissions from vehicles.
  • Continue to support policies that will lead to the creation of a self-sufficient market for clean energy technologies. Providing rebates or tax credits for energy efficiency or technologies like wind, solar, or solar hot water systems will foster the growth of these industries and keep demand for trained labor high.
  • Support efforts to improve the quality and expand the reach of green job training programs.



Jordan Schneider

Policy Analyst

Elizabeth Ridlington

Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group

Elizabeth Ridlington is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. She focuses primarily on global warming, toxics, health care and clean vehicles, and has written dozens of reports on these and other subjects. Elizabeth graduated with honors from Harvard with a degree in government. She joined Frontier Group in 2002. She lives in Northern California with her son.

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