This month, researchers at the Donald Vial Center for Employment in the Green Economy — part of UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment — will begin consulting the California Public Utilities Commission about developing new training programs for employees in the utilities industry as part of a statewide initiative to reduce carbon emissions and increase environmental sustainability.
Working under a $500,000 contract granted by CPUC and valid through 2014, campus consultants will help utility companies such as PG&E to develop a strategic plan for improved workforce education and training. The initiative follows the Vial Center’s 2011 California Workforce Education and Training Needs Assessment, which aimed to help utility companies understand how to better train employees for eco-friendly practices.
“We went through a deliberate and methodical process and selected UC Berkeley based on the strength of the proposal put forward and factors like green goals and diversity inclusion,” said PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian. “This is a whole new trend in workforce training, and the partnership with UC Berkeley will support those new trends.”
According to the Vial Center’s 2011 report, poor installation of energy-efficient equipment has hurt statewide energy-efficiency goals. The report found that California currently has more than 1,000 education programs to train workers who install energy-saving equipment but concludes that a lack of widespread standards leads to confusion and lack of coordination in the workforce. With the new project, workers will be retrained to provide more clean energy installations, and facilities personnel will learn how to improve maintenance and operations of buildings.
“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,” said Vial Center policy analyst Jessica Halpern-Finnerty in an announcement released by the university.
UC Berkeley researchers will partner with various nonprofit organizations, community colleges and technical schools to integrate efficiency training into existing curricula. Those involved in the project hope the accessibility of the training programs will offer new job opportunities to members of the community who need it most.
“We hope to help accomplish two things: to develop clear pathways leading to better job placement outcomes — especially for members of disadvantaged communities — while also working to meet California’s energy-efficiency goals,” says Cynthia Guzman of Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors, a community development and public policy consulting firm working with the Vial Center.
Other organizations working to help overhaul the utilities workforce with the Vial Center include the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and the Career Ladders Project for California Community Colleges.