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Career Change From Construction to Green Jobs

The State of California has passed the innovative Million Solar Roofs Initiative (SB 1, 2006) and is about to implement the strongest anti-global warming legislation in the country, the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32, 2007). New bills, such as SB 1760 and SB 1672 are proposing to inject billions of dollars into the effort to foster cleaner technologies, greener businesses, and job training to those ends.

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According to a study and report by the University of California - Berkeley, "The California construction industry, in which many green jobs are located, has been more deeply affected than any other industry. Indeed, the decline of roughly 30 percent in state construction employment exceeds national employment declines in the Great Depression. The continuing overhang in both residential and nonresidential construction is likely to dampen the number of new green jobs for the near future."

Transitioning OUT of Construction Careers

Career migration is a strategy that is as essential to family survival as it has always been. My father who was a carpenter, faced a similar dearth of work 50 years ago... and he had to travel out of state, leaving his wife and six children at home while he followed the hope of work.

We see that kind of career migration happening today, but there are other strategies to consider. Construction jobs can be turned into other kinds of careers. The ability to think in terms of tangible materials, supply chains, just in time inventory, and customer service are work ethic skills that can be applied to other economic sectors. So let's take a look at where the options are.

Construction Career Transitions

Materials Recycling

The top two exports out of California's ports have been used paper and metals for many years. That is worrisome -- because we are losing the cost-effective recyclable materials that could reduce manufacturing costs. This is a challenging area -- but one that has been building an infrastructure with mandates for e-waste reclamation, recycled content in shipping cartons, recycled content in road construction aggregate, in building materials, etc.

Opportunities exist. They need entrepreneurial vision. And as shipping and transportation become more expensive with climate change legislation, local sourcing could provide a growing opportunity.

Climate Change Land Management

Forests and untilled soil, and terra preta / biochar (look that one up!) can all be entrepreneurial opportunities with a new recipe is envisioned that mixes multiple streams of revenue from cap and trade credits, agri-tourism, organic agriculture, aquaponics ... and other new approaches to land conservation, intensive food production and science-based land management are designed to meet new levels of climate change best practices. Many of these fields offer specialized construction and maintenance opportunities for large agricultural companies, as well as home-based business models.

Investment Services

"Build" a nestegg. Or "build your future." Investment is about more than money... it's about building something functional from elemental parts. Planning, supervising and building for results are skills that can be applied to a wide variety of project management applications in manufacturing, ecotourism, boat repair.. or even dollhouse crafts!

But don't neglect the needs of retiring Boomers to look after their finances, and there is opportunity around the world for construction related financial investment -- and people who understand how cement, solar, water conservation or urban planning regulations can affect stock investments. The developing world is still building ... and while you don't want to move there - you might like to visit, and bring back your realworld observations.

Training for Career Transitions

The Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (UC Berkeley) also found that ... "there has recently been significant growth in demand for middle-skill level jobs that require some technical skill and that cannot be fully outsourced. These middle-skill level jobs require less than a bachelor’s degree but do require some college, apprenticeship, or other technical training, and are found in the health care, construction, transportation, and green technology industries.

There is a shortage of workers with sufficient training for these jobs. However, it is unclear whether these middle-skill jobs pay middle wages.

  • If they don’t, job seekers have less incentive to invest in training.
  • If low wages lead to high turnover, employers also have little incentive to invest in training, because returns to training are lost when workers leave.

No one owes you a job. You are responsible for your own career strategy and your own on-going training to be competitive. That's the new reality.

There are many ways to develop training and documentation of your skills and knowledge. Colleges. Certificate and certification programs. See our GreenJobWizard directory of almost 500 certification programs. Internships and apprenticeships. Volunteer experience. Entrepreneurship.

First comes your recognition that it costs time and money to get smart! (My mother always used to tell us that ... it still holds true.) Then it takes some strategic thinking to analyze the opportunities in your AREA and your field of EXPERTISE. And a community -- careers are stronger when you know a wide variety of colleagues at every level of your supply chain.

And then -- ongoing and forever! -- comes the work of staying current with your knowledge and skills...and network.

Multiple Streams of Revenue

"Multiple streams of revenue" is the mantra of many people working in today's information industries -- and that same strategy might be applied to ANY career. By maintaining a sideline business, a home-based business, investments, etc., a family can provide a small, supplemental stream of revenue in the early stages of the business's growth cycle.

This "multiple-streams" strategy is sustainable in many ways:

  • Home-based businesses provide a way for family members to work together and build a future together
  • Self-employment can provide business acumen that can be applied to both the family business and the full-time career
  • Some sideline businesses can provide creative or craft outlets that promote healthy mental and emotional rewards
  • Entrepreneurship offers opportunities for networking and building a community of supporters - a supply chain, customers, contract workers, etc.
  • Self-employment is a form of insurance against an "all eggs in one basket" approach to a single-minded "job".

Farmers have long mastered the concept of multiple streams of revenue -- they had seasonal crops, harvest and repair skills to share, a balance of shortterm and longterm crops (ie: vegetables and trees), and diversified customers: grocery stores, agri-tourism, mills, and community supported agri subscribers, etc.

Life isn't easy. It isn't simple. And times change. Those are all truisms based on the crises, ups and downs of economic winds, and the need to adapt to life's changes.

The one concept that I continually see is that many employees think they "deserve" to continue making the high wages they made during peak economic times. That just isn't realistic... times change. And they often neglect to observe and understand that many small businesses (who hire the lion's share of newbies and part-time workers) have always struggled to put food on their own table -- and while they would like to hire, but they cannot pay inflated prices for labor in a deflated marketplace. Business just doesn't work that way. Nor does our economy -- as has become quite clear to all of us!

There are many outside forces that back business owners and managers into corners -- tax structures, workers comp costs, export constraints, ability to get financing, etc. Being a business owner at the scale that employs people outside their own families is a complex, delicate balance of working on the bleeding edge of solvency, growth and market conditions.

How will Energy and Environmental Strategies impact Jobs

The institute asked this question: "What are the existing energy and environmental policies and programs that are expected to result in job creation in energy efficiency, distributed generation, and demand response?"

EE-DG-DR Green Jobs

Energy Efficiency (EE)
Distributed Generation (DG)
Demand Response (DR)

Consistent with the scope of the Workforce Education and Training (WE&T) Needs Assessment, this analysis projects labor demand for energy efficiency and other demand-side management activities, including demand response and distributed generation (including solar, wind, and fuel cells, but not combined heat and power).

Drivers of Demand for Labor

Increased demand that is generated by public and utility investments as well as the private market.
  • Public investments are found to account for over 60 percent of the total investments in 2010; these public investments come from state, federal, and the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and publicly owned utilities (POUs).
  • Private investments are found to account for almost 40 percent of the 2010 total; private investments come from two distinct sources.
    --- Compliance with increased codes and standards such as Title 24
    --- Implementation of the Big-Bold-Energy Efficiency Goals in the California Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, which was adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in 2008.

Not every new job will require new education and training. The research assumed that only the industries that engage directly in EE-DG-DR activity (such as sheet metal working or photovoltaic panel manufacturing) will need to train their workers in EE-DG-DR skills (such as installing an efficient HVAC system or processing rebates).

Within the EE-DG-DR industries, there are hundreds of occupations, from secretaries to CEOs to construction laborers. Some of these occupations need EE-DG-DR-related training, but others do not.

The expected growth of green jobs will contribute to the state’s economic recovery. But without public policy support, green jobs are likely to resemble other private sector jobs in California.

That is, the green sector will generate some good professional jobs and many low-wage jobs, but not enough of the middle-wage jobs that the state needs. Training programs for green jobs can help prepare workers for middle-skill jobs as the economy recovers. But investments in training will not solve either the unemployment problem or the pay inequality problem unless they are accompanied by labor demand policies to grow the economy and to support job quality.

From Construction to Energy Job Creation

Constructed buildings are part of our climate change problem -- buildings and their operation (somewhat inefficient!) produce 40% of our greenhouse gas emissions. Not good. The question is -- can the same people who created this problem also solve it? Can construction professionals adapt to conservation, efficiency, and low impact? Or will these workers be replaced with a new generation of workers with a different mindset ... and different goals? That does happen in society. Think about the transition from horse-powered transportation to the motor vehicle... (which is also now a large part of the climate change load, and undergoing another industry and career ladder transformation).

EE-DG-DR Spending

The industries most affected by EE-DG-DR spending are in the construction sector, professional services related to construction, administration, and manufacturing.

Construction-related jobs, particularly specialty contractors, dominate the projections, followed by administration, consulting services, and manufacturing.

Over time, the number of manufacturing jobs is projected to increase significantly due to increased purchasing of HVAC equipment, electric lighting, and other inputs related to EE-DG-DR investment. However, over three-quarters of manufacturing jobs in these industries are expected to be located outside of California, so this job creation will take place mostly out of state.

77 occupations in EE-DG-DR industries that: 1) are expected to grow by at least 100 jobs by 2020; and 2) are judged to require at least minimal EE-DG-DR job training. This excludes occupations like receptionists and truck drivers which, though employed by EE-DG-DR employers, entail work that is no different from that for other industries.

EE-DG-DR Occupations

The top 18 occupations (those with job creation of more than 400 jobs statewide in 2020) are
  • general and operations managers
  • construction managers
  • cost estimators
  • other business operations specialists
  • civil engineers
  • sales representatives
  • services
  • first-line supervisors/managers of office and administrative support workers
  • customer service representatives
  • first-line supervisors/managers of construction trades and extraction workers
  • carpenters
  • construction laborers
  • drywall and ceiling tile installers
  • electricians
  • plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
  • sheet metal workers; helpers, electricians
  • helpers, pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
  • heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers

NOTE: Workers in most occupations do not spend all of their time on EE-DG-DR-related activity. Whether the occupation is in sheet metal work, architecture, or customer service, only a percentage of total work time will be spent doing the EEDG- DR tasks that require training.

Regions For Job Growth

Califronia's major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Riverside-San Bernardino, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco-Oakland, and San Jose, gain the majority of the workers to be trained in these occupations, with 54% anticipated to go to the Los Angeles and San Francisco regions alone. Of these jobs, 45% are in construction industries related to the building envelope.

This analysis estimates that by 2020 California will spend $11.2 billion on EE-DG-DR activities, according to the Medium Scenario. This demand will stem from a combination of public expenditures, ratepayer funded utility programs, and leveraged investments from private market actors (e.g. residential consumers and businesses).

EE-DG-DR Training and Job Projections It is estimated that by 2020, EE-DG-DR investments will generate 52,371 total new jobyears (38,937 over the 2009 baseline) and will require some level of training for 78,204 workers over the 10 year period, although for the general administrative and management occupation this may be minimal. The training need will fluctuate by year as investment fluctuates, and a large portion of these workers will need training during the ARRA years due to the spike in investment at that time.

Energy Efficiency Jobs

The energy efficiency programs include:

1) incentive and education programs funded by the utilities’ public goods charge, state and federal government expenditures, and participant costs;

2) state and federal codes and standards, which are funded exclusively by leveraged private investments.

These energy efficiency programs also include weatherization programs for low-income customers.

Demand Response Programs - Smart Meters

The demand response programs include program expenditures for implementing demand response programs and utility investments in smart meters. Private investments are limited to the participant costs associated with permanent load-shifting programs; private investments resulting from demand response, such as the wages paid to building managers hired to take advantage of special demand response programs, are not explicitly addressed.

Distributed Generation Programs

The distributed generation programs include financial incentives and subsidized rates for photovoltaic installations, wind turbines, and fuel cells at customer facilities.

Demand Response and Distributed Generation

The demand response and distributed generation programs are funded by both government expenditures and ratepayers; however consumers also contribute the associated participant costs in the distributed generation and demand response programs.

SOURCE: Read the complete "Workforce Strategies" report from Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, University of California, Berkeley

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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