Creating a Green Pipeline of Workers

A Public-Private Workforce Training Initiative in Los Angeles

Two engineers surveying a windmill farm
By Sarah Salimi

MDRC has long studied employment trends, and a growing body of research demonstrates the “greening” of the labor market—referring to how job duties will change as parts of the country transition to a cleaner energy infrastructure. New jobs and updated skill requirements for existing trades demand changes in how young people prepare for the workforce.

California has proven to be an incubator for climate innovation—setting ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and creating new jobs in the clean economy. To support these goals, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and employers have come together in Los Angeles to create the LA Regional Cleantech Career Academy. The Academy aims to train the next generation of workers for the clean energy workforce, making a priority of populations that are un- and underrepresented in the industry as future leaders of the anticipated economic boom in this sector. UNITE-LA (which describes itself as a nonprofit organization focused on “equitable economic mobility” through “cradle-through-career” education and workforce development) partners with numerous businesses, institutions of education, public systems, community-based organizations, and philanthropic funders to administer the Academy. It has received letters of support from employers such as SunRun, Southern California Gas Company, Avantus, Southern California Edison, Chargie, Veolia, and H2U Technologies.

In February, MDRC sat down with UNITE-LA to learn more about the program, which serves scholars who come from all parts of Los Angeles County. The program enrolled its first group of scholars in March 2023, consisting of 75 young people ages 16 to 24. Seventy percent of scholars self-identify as being from low-income backgrounds, being scholars of color, or both. During the program, scholars spend 160 hours over 12 weeks learning about the clean energy sector and work-readiness skills through a curriculum created in partnership with clean energy providers. Scholars are paid to learn through funding from the county. This learning period involves opportunities for career exposure, such as hearing from guest speakers and visiting job sites. The curriculum, created in partnership with industry employers, covers skills such as teamwork, communication, and leadership, as well as technical knowledge related to hydrogen fuels, solar technologies, and wind energy. After those 12 weeks, scholars spend another two months working in paid internships in, for example, the water or hydrogen industries. Graduates from the group of scholars who enrolled were placed in paid internships in three main areas of clean technology: hydrogen, solar energy, and water. The Academy also offers scholarships for those who complete the program and go on to pursue certificates or degrees in the clean energy sector.

The initiative aims to ensure that scholars from communities that have been un- and underrepresented in the clean energy sector are not excluded from the economic growth the sector is set to provide in California—which estimates that 4 million jobs will be created in it over the next two decades. “The clean tech sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the nation, and one in six clean energy jobs in the United States is based in California,” said UNITE-LA president Alysia Bell. “If the opportunities of this industry are to be distributed equally, we have to invest in building a diverse and inclusive talent pipeline now.”