Fernando Martin and Marry Nagler work on a mock Advanced Lighting Control System as part of their training at CALCTP. - 

When politicians talk about the future of employment and how to get the American economy back on track, there is one phrase that will inevitably flow from their lips: "Green jobs." But what exactly is a green job and where does it come from?

California is a good place to find the answer -- it has some of the most ambitious energy conservation goals in the nation. State building codes will require all new residential and commercial construction be zero net energy by 2030. That means every building will have to produce as much energy as it consumes.

To accomplish that, lots of construction workers will be needed.

“They are not, quote-unquote, green jobs. They are just ordinary professional and blue collar work in the building and construction industry,” says Dr. Carol Zabin, chairman of the Don Vial Center for Employment in the Green Economy. Zabin thinks a better way to describe this transition is the "greening" of existing jobs, not the creation of entirely new kinds of jobs.

For example, one of the key technologies needed to achieve California’s energy conservation goals is advanced lighting controls.

“A typical building will save anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of current energy by just controlling the lighting and using it when they need it, have the right amount of light,” said Doug Avery, an expert in lighting controls.

You are probably familiar with advanced lighting controls if you ever walked into a bathroom and the lights automatically came on. Or maybe they didn’t. When advanced lighting isn’t installed properly, building owners often override the systems, which compromises energy savings.

To ensure that electricians install these systems properly, a statewide initiative called the California Advanced Lighting Control Training Program,  or CALCTP, was created.

Inside a warehouse-sized classroom at the Electrical Training Institute of Southern California, certified electricians are working in groups of two, installing miniature lighting systems on pegboards. Fernando Martin and Mary Nagler were working together at one of the boards. They both said they're starting to see more of these types of lighting control systems in the field.  “As long as you are fairly experienced with this type of thing it's not that bad. But it definitely requires a class, if not some studying on your own part,” said Martin.

Tim Rainey, executive director of the California Workforce Investment Board, says demand for these skilled workers will rise significantly as older utility and construction workers retire over the next five to ten years, leaving big skill gaps in every industry, but especially in the utilities sector. "In fact two out of every three job openings will be because of retirement -- what we call replacements,” said Rainey.

Replacing those skilled workers is a big challenge, Rainey added, “but it’s also a big opportunity.”

Follow David Weinberg at @@randomtape