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San Diego Prepares for Growth in Green Job Industy

Audio

Aired 7/30/09

Environmentally-friendly jobs are taking center-stage as California reacts to global warming and continued growth. We speak with an expert about the green job industry and its outlook for San Diego.

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

There will be a Green Workforce Development Fair on August 1st at UCSD Price Center from 1-6 p.m.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. There are lots of reasons to be excited about emerging green industries in California. San Diego is one of the 10 largest centers of green jobs in the nation. These jobs help reduce pollution and conserve resources in a variety of different fields, from home building to energy production. And San Diego is due to receive a big influx of federal dollars and school bond money for a number of environmentally-friendly jobs projects. But there is a question about when we will see a significant increase in the demand for green job skills and there are even those who say the expected growth in green jobs has been overestimated. To help us sort through the issue of how many and where the new green jobs will be is my guest Philip Jordan. He’s Director of the San Diego and Imperial Region Center of Excellence, which supports community colleges by providing data on high growth industries and occupations. And, Philip, welcome to These Days.

PHILIP JORDAN (Director, San Diego and Imperial Region Center of Excellence): Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And we want to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Have you been thinking of retraining for a green job? Or do you have questions about where the jobs are? Give us a call, 1-888-895-5727. So, Philip, let’s start out with talking about what actually constitutes a green job. What are these types of jobs?

JORDAN: Well, a green job is really is something that needs to result in a net reduction of negative environmental impacts so these are types of jobs that work to – with policies, materials or services that actually create a net reduction, so things that maybe reduce greenhouse gas emissions or clean up the environment would be included. But there’s an important second piece to that definition also, and that is that these jobs require some kind of specialized skill, some type of knowledge or experience that’s directly related to reducing those environmental impacts.

CAVANAUGH: Can you tell – can you be as specific as possible? I know that there are jobs for photovoltaic installers for solar paneling, and what other specific types of jobs are we talking about?

JORDAN: Well, there are lots of jobs. In renewable energy, for example, in addition to the photovoltaic installers, solar hot water system installers, we have wind turbine technicians, geothermal technicians, and emerging biofuels technicians. Outside of the renewable energy space and energy efficiency, we have energy auditors, heating and ventilation, air conditioning technicians and repair people, and we’re also talking about a lot of the outdoor jobs, too, folks who remediate environmental sites, hazardous waste management operators, etcetera, so there – there’s really a wide variety of green jobs out there.

CAVANAUGH: And some of these are actually brand new fields.

JORDAN: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: And I’m wondering, what’s going on with the influx of federal money? We’ve heard that there’s stimulus money coming our way, maybe some money from the Navy.

JORDAN: Absolutely. So there’s really two types of funding that are coming through from a lot of different federal sources. But the two types, the first type is project money so this is money, for example, to the Navy that would maybe provide for energy retrofits at their buildings in the barracks or create new roads and bridges. There’s also a large pot of money for training so that money comes for those who are unemployed or underemployed, dislocated or incumbent workers who need some additional skills, and this funding is coming through to actually train those individuals.

CAVANAUGH: And how does this money affect San Diego’s green job outlook?

JORDAN: It’s actually having a profound impact. Again, it’s hard to kind of quantify some of these things for right now. We’re in such a difficult economic period in terms of jobs. So when I say something like we’re looking at in energy efficiency fields, for example, over the next twelve months of anywhere from 3 to 15% job growth, two years ago that would be pretty underwhelming but in this market, it’s actually phenomenal growth.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And I want to remind everyone, I’m speaking with Philip Jordan. He’s director of the San Diego and Imperial Region Center of Excellence. And on the line, Brian is calling. He’s calling from Clairemont, and welcome, Brian, to These Days.

BRIAN (Caller, Clairemont): Thank you. I’ve been interested in solar for a while now and I’m trying to get into the industry. And I was wondering if you had any input on the highest growth in terms of being either a supplier or a retailer? Business to business or commercial/residential. What’s experiencing the highest growth at this time?

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Brian.

JORDAN: Right now, it’s very hard to quantify because many companies are optimistic but unsure. So a lot of them are really hesitant to kind of give you any kind of concrete information on what their expectations are. However, there is the most optimism, I will tell you, in residential and commercial installation. So that’s kind of the hottest area that I see in solar photovoltaic right now.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. When I said before that there seems some – to be – some people say that there’s some overestimation on the number of green jobs that are coming out and I wonder if you have any estimates that you rely on as the – how green jobs are going to develop over, oh, next couple years?

JORDAN: Absolutely. We are in the process of studying renewable energy occupations. That data will be forthcoming, though we have identified over 150 renewable energy firms in the San Diego area. Most of those are solar firms but there are also firms involved in wind energy, geothermal energy, and some of those emerging biofuels. Energy efficiency is a particularly hot area for our region. We surveyed 158 employers in a recent study. The majority are small companies. However, for the occupations that we studied which, again, are focused on really more career and technical type jobs that are relevant for community college instruction, we found three-year growth rates of between 17 and 53% so that’s really very good growth. Interestingly, at the same time, 42% of employers reported great difficulty in hiring compliance analysts in energy so even in this very difficult climate, employers are indicating – between 50 and 75% of those are indicating some or great difficulty in finding qualified applicants.

CAVANAUGH: You know, I was reading an article about this and some critics say, you know, there won’t be that many new jobs because what people will – what companies will do is they’ll just retrain the people they already have working for them in these newer green skills. Do you see that area opening up as well?

JORDAN: I think there will be both. One example of that is in environmental technology. We see huge growth coming in the next five years, up to 82% growth across the occupations that we studied in environmental technology. And that’s, again, mostly dealing with environmental engineering technicians and hazardous waste operators. And what employers have told us is that for management type opportunities in those companies, generally speaking they like to train from within, have their great hazardous waste operators, environmental engineering techs go back to school, get some additional training and promote from within because then they have a strong knowledge of the industry. So as they get promoted through, there’s a whole new crop of people who are needed to fill the entry level positions.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s talk with Carolyn. She’s calling from San Diego. And good morning, Carolyn. Welcome to These Days.

CAROLYN (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Thank you for taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, how can we help you?

CAROLYN: Well, here in San Diego’s where I am and I work for a company called ISC Corporation and we provide the – well, I guess you could call it the hydrogen and the hybrid zero emission propulsion systems for heavy duty vehicles. And this would go toward buses, for one example. And so even though we’re providing these high tech, environmentally friendly systems, we are in need, ourselves, of employees that know how, you know, engineering-wise, sales-wise, that can build these. And then there’s another factor to this. We just recently sold the gasoline hybrid buses to San Diego Metropolitan Transit Services. They, themselves, now have an extremely high tech vehicle on their hands with high voltage. They require training, they require an entirely new level of mechanical ability to service and maintenance and troubleshoot these vehicles. And we’re finding, you know, there’s organizations out there to help train the existing employees but for those people that could come in and say, hey, I already understand this, I get this, I know how it works, that’s the hardest thing to find right now.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you, Carolyn. I think you’re talking to the right person. Yes, go ahead, Philip.

JORDAN: There’s actually – This is a great example of how working with the community college system can be very beneficial for local companies. There’s an initiative that’s funded through similar sources, my initiative, called the Advanced Transportation Technology and Energy Initiative at Miramar College. And they’re actually focused on alternative transportation, hybrid engines, biodiesel, all different types of alternative transportation, and they would be a phenomenal resource for employers in the region to talk about developing new training programs. And they actually have the resources to, many times, help kick the – kickstart the new training program.

CAVANAUGH: Now from what I understand, Philip, is you do the research and you give the research about emerging industries and job growth to community colleges. And now have they been taking that information here in San Diego and offering new courses to people so that they can retrain into these green areas of job growth.

JORDAN: Absolutely. The community college system that we have in San Diego and Imperial Counties works very well together, the various colleges. And our using this information for development of new courses, for applying for many of these new grant funds, and for trying to create a comprehensive approach so that there’s no overlap and so that we minimize any saturation in the market. So the colleges here are very committed to ensuring that we don’t saturate the labor market with graduates who then can’t find jobs.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Steve is calling from Escondido. Good morning, Steve, and welcome to These Days.

STEVE (Caller, Escondido): Good morning. Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

STEVE: I am going into computer science and I am curious, Philip, what the job outlook looks like for computer science in green building for green technologies, and where the jobs are going to be.

JORDAN: There is a lot of movement in – for high tech IT in green buildings for many of the systems. To be quite frank with you, I haven’t researched specifically how the IT component will play into that. However, I can tell you that for many of these building systems occupations, those are the ones that are seeing the most growth in energy efficiency so many of these deal with kind of tying in all the various appliances, the air-conditioning, thermostat and all the other electrical components so that you can better manage your electricity from a building. So at this point the commercial and residential building systems occupations are growing kind of the fastest in the energy efficiency field, so that’s certainly an area that will require IT support, though I can’t give you a definite answer on the IT component of that.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Steve, for that call. I’m wondering, Philip, and I – You may not be able to answer this but I’m just – I’d just be curious to find out, do you know what some of the course titles sound like for the community colleges on these green jobs skill educational courses?

JORDAN: Yes, luckily, the colleges have been actually using names that make a lot of sense so you will see the development of many courses that are under development now that will be called ‘solar photovoltaic installer,’ ‘solar hot water systems’ or ‘solar thermal installation course.’ You will see ‘hazardous waste operator, 40-hour certificate’ or ‘HAZWOPER 40-hour certificate program.’ ‘Energy auditing,’ that’s another one that you’ll see so they really are specifically tied to the occupations. One of the things that’s great about working with the community colleges that, for the most part, they’re very career focused so they work very well with industry and they use the job titles that are appropriate when they develop their training courses.

CAVANAUGH: That’s very interesting, and I would imagine most of these new occupations or course certificates would be available within two years.

JORDAN: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Now what would you say is the biggest challenge that faces the green job industry?

JORDAN: The biggest challenge facing the green job industry has traditionally been that we don’t use the same language. So it’s – it can be very confusing for people who go out into the workplace. And what I’m seeing in my research is a real disconnect. We have high unemployment, we have – we are showing some job growth though, in many cases, when we complete the research, people are very surprised by the numbers because they haven’t heard that anywhere else. And also we’re have – we’re finding lots of employers who are having a lot of difficulty finding qualified applicants. So I think that really, right now, we’re facing a communications issue where we need to get people on the same page to recognize what the opportunities are and where the programs are for where they can get trained. Now, luckily, we have a very strong workforce investment board here in San Diego, the San Diego Workforce Partnership and they’re convening all of the major players, actually tomorrow is the meeting, to really get everyone on the same page and continue the dialogue so that’s very encouraging.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder how you manage the idea of getting the word out and making sure that people know these things are available and are going to be available but, at the same time, you try to make sure that they aren’t overtrained. As you say, that there aren’t a whole bunch of people who are trained for jobs that don’t exist.

JORDAN: Exactly. So we try to create as accurate of labor market forecasting as possible and then we conduct gap analyses that say here – here are how many we’re producing today, here’s what the expected gap is, so here’s what we need to do in order to meet that gap, and let’s not do more than that.

CAVANAUGH: You mentioned that you’re going – have a green career job fair coming up this Saturday. What are the kinds of things that are going to be covered there?

JORDAN: Well, a lot of the things that we’ve talked about today that are critically important. First and foremost, I think we’re going to start with talking about funding for projects and training, so get the overview. What kind of funding is available. Many of the educational institutions, the community colleges and the state universities and the privates will be there to explain what their offerings are and what to expect. The one-stop career centers will be there to answer questions. There’ll be resume reviews, career coaching, and it’s really not a – one of these fuzzy kind of forums where people get around and talk. This is really a targeted approach to connect motivated job applicants with the real opportunities that exist for training and the real opportunities that exist for jobs.

CAVANAUGH: Are you prepared for a lot of people?

JORDAN: We are.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, is this the first one you’ve had?

JORDAN: This is the first.

CAVANAUGH: And what are you hoping to get out of this job fair?

JORDAN: Well, I think the key here, from my perspective as a researcher, is we want to get those employers who are having great difficulty finding employees, who are trained appropriately, connected with those people who are willing to go through short term training courses to get that training and really grow the green workforce. I mean, we have a tremendous opportunity in San Diego to be one of the major players in the green economy for our country.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for speaking with us today.

JORDAN: It was my pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Philip Jordan. He is Director of the San Diego and Imperial Region Center of Excellence. And I want to tell you about that development fair coming up on Saturday. The Green Workforce Development Fair is this Saturday, August first, at the UCSD Price Center and it will run in the afternoon from 1:00 to 6:00. And, Philip, thanks again for being here.

JORDAN: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And stay with us as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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