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LA County To See Big Growth In Green Jobs. Here Are Some Of Them

Edward McKee welds a part for an electric bus at BYD Coach & Bus in Lancaster.
Edward McKee welds a piece for an electric bus at the BYD Coach & Bus manufacturing facility in Lancaster.
(Courtesy: BYD)
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Want to spend your workday working for the planet? Los Angeles County is expected to see a nearly 80% increase in green jobs by 2050 — twice as much growth as expected for all jobs in the county, according to a recent report commissioned by the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.

The promising outlook for green jobs is driven, in part, by local, state and national plans to ramp up efforts to address the growing climate crisis.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said earlier this week that the city aims to source 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2035 — a decade earlier than envisioned in the city's 2019 Green New Deal plan.

L.A. County has committed to achieving a zero-carbon energy supply by 2050 and a zero-emission transportation system even earlier.

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And President Joe Biden this week is expected to pledge to cut U.S. emissions at least by half by 2030.

These goals are … just goals, yes. But to reach them, green industries like electric vehicle manufacturing and infrastructure will have to grow substantially.

"We've got to prepare people to be competitive for these jobs and be trained for these jobs," said Matt Petersen, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator and former chief sustainability officer for the city of Los Angeles.

That means career opportunities. Here are three jobs helping Los Angeles get to a greener, cleaner future.

Albert Baena standing with face mask on, hands behind back, in front of an electric bus at the Proterra manufacturing facility in the City of Industry.
Albert Baena poses in front of one of the electric buses he helps build at the Proterra manufacturing facility in the City of Industry.
(Courtesy: Proterra)

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1:55
Listen: Building Electric Buses And New Careers

Electric Vehicle Manufacturing Technician

Two electric bus manufacturing companies in Los Angeles — BYD in Lancaster, and Proterra in the City of Industry — have partnerships with nearby community colleges and local unions to offer short-term training programs.

Albert Baena recently finished the program that is a collaboration between Proterra, Citrus College and United Steelworkers Local 675. Baena, who's 27, was working as a prep cook at a restaurant before he got into the program.

"I wanted to challenge myself more. I said, 'I would like to be a part of something bigger,'" he said.

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Baena found out about the electric bus manufacturing training program through the Goodwill employment center in Baldwin Park. He joined the first cohort of the nine-week course and then got selected for a union job at Proterra. Baena said he's since trained on a variety of stations on the company's production line for electric vehicle battery packs. "Anywhere from wire crossing and connections to working with robotic technology," he said.

Now, Baena said, he feels great about his career.

"Down the line in five, 10 years, I want to be able to tell my son, 'I make a change in this world for myself, for you, and for the people that live in it."

Citrus College automotive instructor Mariano Rubio said it's been great to learn about an emerging industry directly from Proterra's engineers.

"We literally went there to build our curriculum and build our classes, and we sat down, pen on notepad, and, and we're writing down, 'Okay, so how do you guys put this together? And what materials do you guys use for this?'"

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Rubio is also helping develop Citrus College's electric vehicle repair program, which is scheduled to start enrolling students next year.

Long Beach City College and Rio Hondo College both already have programs in electric and alternative fuel vehicle technology.

Rubio thinks that over the next decade, most automotive training programs will be teaching students almost entirely about electric vehicles. "The internal combustion engine training is kind of going to be secondary," he said.

Evette Ellis and Kameale C. Terry, co-founders of ChargerHelp!, pose on a bench overlooking downtown Los Angeles.
Evette Ellis (left) and Kameale C. Terry, co-founders of ChargerHelp!. The startup offers on demand repair service for electric vehicle charging stations
(Courtesy: ChargerHelp!)

2:11
Listen: How Broken Electric Car Chargers Became A Business Opportunity

Electric Vehicle Entrepreneur

When Kameale C. Terry was working for a company that makes software for charging stations, she dealt with lots of drivers frustrated by broken, out-of-service electric vehicle chargers.

She came to see a big problem: Not many people knew how to fix EV charging stations.

"We were using electrical contractors that could take seven to 14 days to get on site," she said. And then when they did get on site, the problem often wasn't electrical, and those workers didn't know what to do.

Terry, who's 31 and grew up in South L.A., saw an opportunity to fix the problem — and put people to work.

"I thought our industry had to do a better job of creating equitable paying jobs," she said. "Like, we talk about all these green jobs, but I still don't have a really good understanding of who's creating these jobs and what startups are actually employing people."

She decided she would — along with her business partner Evette Ellis. Their company, ChargerHelp!, diagnoses problems with electric vehicle charging stations and sends trained technicians out to fix them.

They're up to around 30 employees just a year and a quarter after they launched.

The two women aim to hire people who have historically been left out of emerging industries. Terry says workers who have experienced struggle are the best problem-solvers.

"They have a natural instinct to be like, 'Well, I know it said to do it that way, but I'm gonna try it this way.' And it's like, 'Oh wow, that was actually the right way.'"

Make no mistake, though, this is not charity, Terry says.

"I plan to own an electric jet in 10 years. So we plan to make a lot of money."

Terry and Ellis's advice for anyone who wants to get into the cleantech industry: start networking. Get on LinkedIn, attend free webinars, visit your local employment center and ask about training opportunities.

"Investing in yourself has paid off a great deal for me with certifications from local community resource centers or employment centers," Ellis said.

"Don't be too proud to go into your local employment center — that you pay good taxes for … to get those things to beef up your resume and your skill set so you're able to compete in this."

Marine biologist Yassi Khairolomour, wearing a mask, snorkel and wetsuit, poses for a picture underwater, holding a horn shark.
Marine biologist Yassi Khairolomour poses with a horn shark.
(Courtesy: Yassi Khairolomour)

2:07
Listen: "I met the ocean and I fell in love"

Marine Biologist

Yassi Khairolomour has always been a science nerd, she says. "I was that kid that would set my house on fire trying to follow Bill Nye experiments."

But for Khairolomour, science in school was mostly behind a microscope, in the lab, indoors. Until she got to UCLA and took a marine biology class.

"I met the ocean and I fell in love," she said.

Khairolomour, who's 39, became a marine biologist and spent 15 years doing research on things like invasive kelp and the effect of sewage spills on the underwater ecosystem.

The best part of this work, she said, is being on the boat and diving to observe underwater creatures and habitats up close. But you have to be an early riser.

"We get ready at 4 or 5 a.m in the morning and we're in the water, at first light," Kairolomour said.

The not-so-fun part is applying for grants, which she said can take up fully half of a research biologist's time. "It's a little bit disappointing that you have to beg for money to be able to research and figure out how to keep our planet sustained."

These days, Khairolomour leads the Odyssey Academy STEM program at Lakewood High School, and she's program director at the Long Beach Marine Institute, which organizes field trips and summer camps to teach students about marine ecology.

Young students peer into a seine net next to the beach.
Young students peer into a seine net.
(Courtesy: Yassi Khairolomour)

Khairolomour's advice for anyone thinking about getting into marine biology: get out there.

"When there's beach cleanups, go to a beach cleanup. When the aquarium has a free teen night event, go check it out," she said.

For high schoolers, she also recommends checking with local community colleges to see if they'll allow you to volunteer as a lab technician, though these opportunities may be on hold because of COVID-19.

Khairolomour thinks today's students who become researchers won't have to beg for funding like she did because there's a much greater demand — and, in many cases, mandates — to study the environmental impacts of proposed activities.

"A lot of the big companies hire specialists and environmental scientists to do research," she said, "so jobs are out there."

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