Green Jobs: What California HR Professionals Need to Know

By Toni Vranjes June 6, 2017
Green Jobs: What California HR Professionals Need to Know

California is a leader in clean-energy jobs, and there are some key issues that HR professionals should keep in mind as clean-energy efforts gain momentum in the state.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies two types of green jobs:

  • Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.
  • Jobs that make an establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or help the business to use fewer natural resources.

President Donald Trump recently decided to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord—a global agreement signed by 195 countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020—but the formal withdrawal won't take effect for several years.

Meanwhile, a group of mayors, governors, university presidents and businesses have vowed to meet the United States' emission goals under the Paris agreement, The New York Times reported. California Gov. Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti support such efforts, according to CNN.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently ranked California as the top state overall in clean-energy momentum and one of the top five states in clean-energy jobs. State policies that favor clean energy have contributed to the rise of these jobs.

Employers that hire workers for clean-energy jobs may want their policies and practices to align with a green mission.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: Is there anything I can do to help my company go green?]

On the Leading Edge

More than 420,000 people are employed in the energy efficiency, solar and wind industries in California, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.  

The Solar Foundation says that solar jobs increased by 32 percent in the state from 2015 to 2016.

"There's a great investment in growing these jobs in California," said attorney Jeff Bosley, of Davis Wright Tremaine in San Francisco.

Government policies have led to the creation of a variety of green jobs, including energy managers, engineers, building operations, analysts and energy-efficiency specialists, said Ryan Baron, an attorney with Best Best & Krieger in Irvine.

The state's cap-and-trade system is one policy that has spurred the creation of green jobs. The program limits carbon emissions for businesses, like power plants. If the company's carbon emissions exceed a certain level, the business either needs to reduce emissions or buy carbon allowances.

In effect, the cap-and-trade program disfavors energy sources based on carbon, like petroleum, according to Bill Capps, an attorney with Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell in Los Angeles.

The program also brings money into the state Treasury to help fund green projects, Baron said.

The state's "renewables portfolio standard" is another factor that has contributed to green-job growth. This requires investor-owned utilities to get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources—such as solar and wind power—by 2020, and 50 percent by 2030. A bill has been proposed in Sacramento to get to 100 percent by 2045, although most people think that's unrealistic and won't happen, according to Baron.

A program called "community choice aggregation" has played a role in creating green jobs by allowing cities and counties to stop buying power from investor-owned utilities and instead purchase it wholesale on behalf of residents and businesses, Baron said.

According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, the program "has routinely delivered electricity using more renewable energy at slightly lower rates than investor-owned utilities in California."

In addition, California has regulations mandating energy-efficiency standards for buildings, which fuel a lot of green jobs, Baron said.

And gas taxes also have a role, Capps said, noting that the California Legislature recently raised gas taxes by a significant amount. The effect will be to favor electric vehicles even more because they don't use gas.

Meanwhile, costs for renewable energy have fallen in the U.S., leading to market growth, according to data cited by the California Energy Commission.

Best Practices for HR

Many aspects of green jobs are the same as those of other jobs, according to Bosley. But there are some issues that HR should be aware of.

Employees in green jobs tend to have a strong belief in promoting the use of clean energy, and HR should make sure the policies in employee handbooks are consistent with that mission and send the right message, he said.

Also, there is a need in occupations such as solar-panel installation and environmental cleanup to increase the representation of women and minorities. One challenge for HR professionals is to ensure a diverse workforce, Bosley added.

He works with a nonprofit group called GRID Alternatives that has volunteers install solar equipment on the homes of low-income families. GRID Alternatives also is training a diverse community to install solar equipment. Its Women in Solar Program was created to increase the number of women in the solar industry.

Grant Opportunities

He noted that there have been an array of grant opportunities for green-job training programs from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency and organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Some funding sources were available under legislation enacted after the 2008 financial crisis, and it's too soon to tell what funding will be available at the federal level in coming years, he said. However, states and some cities continue to fund these efforts.

Many programs provide grants to communities, educational institutions and training programs rather than to private employers directly, he noted. Still, the organizations that receive these grants can be a good resource for hiring skilled workers for green jobs.

Toni Vranjes is a freelance business writer in San Pedro, Calif.

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