Green job training programs

By Miguel Molina, 17, Film & Theatre Arts Charter HS
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Miguel thinks it's cool that California has passed environmental laws because they create new green jobs.

I started caring about the environment because of my sister. She’d tell me and my parents to recycle and not to throw trash in the gutters (because it ends up in the ocean). I realized it was important to protect the environment because pollution can harm animals and us. I joined a garden club called South Central Resistance. We’re growing plants in vacant lots to fight pollution because plants consume the carbon dioxide that is released into the air from cars and factories.

When I heard that President Obama was going to create more green jobs, I was interested but confused. The only green technology I’d seen were windmills and solar panels. I thought green jobs were just related to renewable energy. When I interviewed educators at Los Angeles Trade Tech, I found out that there are a lot more green jobs than I thought. I learned about mechanics who fix hybrid cars and people who make houses more energy efficient.

I also learned that California has passed laws that require technology to be better for the environment. As time passes there will be more green jobs because of these laws. If you’re interested in the environment, you should consider getting a green job.

L.A. Youth: What’s a green job?
Tom Vessella, professor in the Construction, Design and Manufacturing Department: Jobs that focus on energy conservation, material conservation and environmental need. You help protect the environment, you save energy and you use less materials. When they say what is a green job? This [weatherization, helping buildings conserve energy] is a green job. Old houses are broken because they don’t use energy efficiently. They have energy loss. If we insulate it really tight that means we don’t have to use as much [air conditioning and heating]. That conserves our natural resources and saves money. We change the efficiency of the appliances. We get a smaller furnace so now we use less energy.

Can you give me some other examples of green jobs?
Marcia Wilson, the director of Green Workforce Education: You can get a green job working on hybrid and electric vehicles. There are also green programs that are related to water conservation. There are all types of green jobs.

Did green jobs start arising because of global warning?
Wilson: I think so, because of that awareness of global warming and the issues of polluting the environment. Vessella: In California we’re actually leading the way on this. We have a green building code [which requires new buildings to use less water and be more energy efficient]. And because of our green building code, this knowledge and skills are more valuable than maybe in other states. It gives us more opportunities for energy auditors and things of that nature.

Trade Tech student Bryant Corona, 21, demonstrates how to take a reading of carbon monoxide levels. This is part of the safety check that is done before weatherizing a house.

How much do green jobs pay?
Vessella: Most [weatherization installers] are $12 to $15 an hour to start and $26 once you move to the crew chief. The Department of Water and Power is also a weatherization provider and those guys make a very good wage, $26 to $40. [Solar panel installers make about $30,000 to start and can make up to about $50,000 a year.]

Five or seven years from now, will green jobs be in demand?
Vessella: Yes. It’ll be the norm.

How long does the training usually take?
Wilson: From as short as 160 hours to some you need two years.

Can you apply the skills that you learn to other fields?
Wilson: Other related fields, absolutely. When you’re learning weatherization, you can apply it to any other construction-related field.

Who should consider green jobs?
Wilson: People who have an interest in the environment and want to get into that industry.

What can high school students do to prepare for green jobs?
Vessella: Be aware. The difference between a green job and regular job is your awareness of everything around you, awareness of the environment. In construction, if you’re aware of not putting things in a landfill, that’s a green aspect to a job.

Has learning about green jobs changed your habits?
Vessella: Yes, I downsized and got a more energy efficient vehicle. We bought a hybrid. How can you not make those changes if you have this knowledge?

(Editor’s note: We also talked to Jess Guerra, vice chair of the Transportation and Related Technologies Department, who told us about Trade Tech’s program in alternative fuels and hybrid vehicle technology.)

What’s a hybrid?
Guerra: A hybrid is when you’re combining two different technologies to run the vehicle—a gasoline engine with an electric motor, a diesel engine with an electric motor. Sometimes hybrids can even come [with a] natural gas engine and electric motor. One of the trainings we do is on compressed natural gas. L.A. Metro is one of our biggest partners here. Most of their busses run on compressed natural gas. Compressed natural gas is the same thing that you find on your stove to cook at home, except that they compress it so they can fit it into cylinders. We do a lot of the training here for mechanics that work on these vehicles.

Miguel talks to construction professor Tom Vessella and Marcia Wilson, the director of green workforce education.

How long is the training?
These courses were written as an add-on to the regular program so they’re a specialty area. By the time they finish their automotive program [which takes about two years], they’re going to get a certificate of achievement in automotive and they’re going to get the hybrid and electric plug-in vehicle certificate as well.

Do they need to do well in certain classes in high school or have certain interests or skills to do well in this program?
Guerra: Absolutely. A lot of the basic stuff you learn in high school, everything from reading and writing skills to computation. Before, the main tool of a mechanic was a wrench, now it’s either a volt meter or a laptop. So you’re first going to have to plug a laptop into the engine and see what’s wrong. So there’s definitely computer skills.

How much do people make?
Guerra: An automotive mechanic typically tops off between $20 and $25 an hour. If you’re a hybrid mechanic, you’re going to be at the $25-$26 per hour range. If you’re working on the heavy equipment [trucks], you’re between $25 and $32 an hour, including if you’re working on hybrids. It depends where you go work. Automotive mechanics that work at dealerships can make over $100,000 a year.

Do you think green cars are going to be in demand?
Guerra: Absolutely, especially because we’re in the state of California and we have some of the toughest emissions laws in the country. When you first saw hybrids, you saw the Toyota Prius and Honda. Today every manufacturer has one because it’s mandated that if they want to do business in California, a certain percentage of their fleet has to be alternative fuels.

Other stories in our Spring 2012 environment package:

Doing my part to help the environment. Kimberly, 16, learned that even her small steps can help fight global warming. (May – June 2012)

Electrifying the future. As electric cars become more popular, they’ll help clean the air. (May – June 2012)

These stories were made possible by a grant from Edison International to write about the environment.