Staying the Path Requires a Fresh Perspective

Against the backdrop of recent awareness-building events designed to bolster against the political sludge oozing out of Washington DC, I spent Friday, April 28th at the 11th Annual Summit on Sustainability at the Getty Center, put together by the Los Angeles Business Council. There was no shortage of powerful rhetoric, but there was a new flavor of grit in the air with distinct undertones of local pride.

The message of the day – that California will “stay the path” – changes environmentalism from a movement to a value that permeates all we do because innovative thinking and transformational technologies around persistent challenges are our primary export. Just as Apple and Google changed how we communicate, Disney impacted how we entertain ourselves, and Tesla is changing how we power transportation, a paradigm shift is happening in green building. From a focus on energy efficiencies, the landscape is now looking toward a net-zero horizon.

As more people migrate to Los Angeles, the demand for livable places and enriched spaces is on the rise. As a result, there has never been more pressure on developing green infrastructure, innovating energy solutions and citywide planning to work at the building, neighborhood and grid scales to support increasing urban density without increasing consumption. Los Angeles wants energy independence. To get there, we need to set our rudder on a pathway forward. To chart a true course, we need to learn as much as we can every day. To raise this level of knowledge we need to recruit new talent or up-train from within.

Recruitment is expensive, risky, and requires diversion of mission-focused costs. What’s more, most job descriptions are doomed to give employers exactly what they don’t want. Job posts are specific and geared to specialization, but with an aging workforce, there are fewer applicants who are plug-and-play for such jobs. Similarly, applicants err on the side of quantity, throwing resumes against the “easy apply now” button hoping a few will get through the funnel, accept a job because its offered, and move on in two years because movement looks like success.

There’s another way. Attract more interesting applicants who bring varied experiences. Broaden your search so these applicants are not screened out. The interesting job postings are those with an on-boarding plan, who advertise skill development and cultural assimilation as part of the expectations of employment. These companies know what they want and they’re willing to create it. Those who advertise for a long-term hire in today’s culture of on-demand, at-will and temporary positions are making a statement, an investment in loyalty.

We ask potential employees to invest blindly in a career they imagine, but don’t really know – and can’t until they invest – to get certifications, degrees, internships, apprenticeships, and volunteer experience. It’s no wonder we need special programs to entice diversity into our field, almost apologetically. To excite the people you want into the pipeline, they need assurances, clear career pathways to get in to be of maximum value.

If you still aren’t getting the applicants you want, then look at the training programs you’re recruiting from. The initial training in K16 sets the expectations of future employees. Leaving this enculturation to programs out of touch or antiquated but well meaning doesn’t help. Just as business wants predictability in order to plan strategically, education and training need resources to prime long-term outlooks and realize efficiencies of scale. When funding is stable, industry can benefit from more:

  • Authentic partnerships between companies and professional organizations, mentoring middle and high schools, providing real world applications for the skills students are learning in engineering design and critical thinking;
  • Career development through community colleges and universities by providing access to today’s technology and instructors who know how to use it;
  • Workforce development for adults at all entry-points that includes placement into appropriate positions upon successful program completion; and
  • Impactful on-the-job training that builds cross-pollination of ideas and skills for future innovation.

We live in a laboratory and the experiments of training and education are people’s lives. We can do better if we get in the way. Where do you want to see progress? Whether you are looking at developing local or global obstacles, a knowledgeable workforce will always be at the center of the solution. The education engine can proceed as it always has and produce what it typically does, or you can be a part of changing it. I invite you to get in the way of the status quo and realize the workforce you’ve always imagined.

How will you improve workforce training? Please join the conversation by contacting me directly at or leaving your thoughts here.

Thank you to those whose ideas, innovations and unique perspectives are captured above:

  • Andrew McAllister, California Energy Commission
  • Ted Bardacke, Director of Infrastructure, Mayor Garcetti’s Office
  • Ed Mazria, Architecture 2030
  • Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles
  • Eric Strauss, PhD, LMU – Center for Urban Resilience>
  • Kevin de León, Senate President Pro Tempore
  • Michael Stoll, Professor, University of California Los Angeles Luskin School
  • William Funderburk, Jr., LADWP Commissioner
  • Xavier Becerra, Attorney General of California

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