Avantus Academy and Industry Giants Team Up to Educate the Next Generation of Clean Energy Leaders

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Avantus Academy and Industry Giants Team Up to Educate the Next Generation of Clean Energy Leaders
Avantus Academy

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The explosion of cleantech careers in California has already begun, but only just. In 2020, the state boasted just under half a million cleantech jobs; by 2045, that number is expected to rise to nearly 4.5 million. That’s a 9-fold increase over the next two decades.

The coming demand for skilled cleantech workers represents an enormous opportunity for young people, which is why The Avantus Cleantech Career Academy, launched in Los Angeles last month, has made it its mission to make sure that opportunity is available to groups that have historically been left behind. “We wanted to find students that were interested [in cleantech] who maybe would not have had exposure to these types of opportunities otherwise,” says Denita Willoughby, executive consultant for Avantus. "We looked at income, we looked at ethnicity, we looked at gender, to make sure that the student body was really balanced as much as possible. Most of the students enrolled today are first-generation college students or come from low-income households."

The Academy was founded as a partnership between one of the largest solar companies in Los Angeles, and UNITE-LA, a local nonprofit specializing in workforce development. UNITE-LA has previous experience setting up academies for other sectors like healthcare and biotech, but this is the organization’s first foray into cleantech.

The inaugural cohort is composed of 75 Los Angeles County students between the ages of 16 and 24, but the Academy plans to expand to 125 students over the course of the next three years. Critically, it will also pay its students $16.04/hr for the entirety of the course.

For Andrea Abrego Gutiérrez, 24, who moved to the United States from El Salvador when she was 10, the Academy represents an opportunity to receive real world training for a future in clean energy. Abrego attended Santa Monica High School and graduated in 2018, where she says she got interested in cleantech. She’s currently studying for an associates degree in climate at West Los Angeles College, where one of her professors encouraged her to apply to the Avantus Academy.

Though most of the training is virtual, the curriculum does come with some hands-on experience like job site visits and shadowing. “These kids will see things that they don't see on an everyday basis and talk to people about their jobs, their career paths, and what skills they need to succeed in this space,” explains Willoughby.

In addition to the training and the money, Abrego says part of the appeal of the program is its focus on sharing the clean energy transition with everyone. “There are these companies that are creating solutions towards moving into a more sustainable future, but [part of sustainability] is sharing that knowledge with other people,” she says. “It can't just fall onto one person. It has to be collective.” Abrego hopes to use the classes at the Avantus Academy to launch a career in environmental consulting to design solar panels or electric vehicles.

A goal that’s well within reach considering the Avantus Academy boasts a slew of partnerships with some of the biggest names in cleantech including Southern California Edison, solar company Sunrun, Los Angeles Unified School District and Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. Sunrun, for instance, is planning a panel and discussion that will show students what it’s like to work at the largest rooftop solar company in the nation. Southern California Edison is providing coaches and mentors for the program.

“We've got some really big goals here in California when it comes to renewable energy,” says Willoughby. “This is a great example of a real solution that's going to make a difference. And it's collaborative–it’s not just us by ourselves, trying to conquer the world. It's us being a leader saying, come to the table, join us, and let's make a difference. That's what I love about it.”

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LA Tech Week Day Two: Social Highlights
Evan Xie

L.A. Tech Week has brought venture capitalists, founders and entrepreneurs from around the world to the California coast. With so many tech nerds in one place, it's easy to laugh, joke and reminisce about the future of tech in SoCal.

Here's what people are saying about day two of L.A. Tech Week on social:

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LA Tech Week: Goldhirsh Foundation and the Positive Effects of Technology

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

LA Tech Week: Goldhirsh Foundation and the Positive Effects of Technology
Photo taken by Decerry Donato

On Monday, Los Angeles-based philanthropic organization Goldhirsh Foundation hosted the Technology and Storytelling For Social Good panel at Creative Visions studio to kick off LA Tech week.

Tara Roth, president of the foundation, moderated the panel and gathered nonprofit and tech leaders including Paul Lanctot, web developer of The Debt Collective; Alexis Cabrera, executive director of 9 Dots; Sabra Williams, co-founder of Creative Acts; and Laura Gonzalez, senior program manager of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI).

Each of the panelists are grantees of Goldhirsh Foundation’s LA2050, an initiative launched in 2011 that is continuously trying to drive and track progress toward a shared vision for the future of Los Angeles. Goldhirsh’s vision is to make Los Angeles better for all and in order to achieve their goal, the foundation makes investments into organizations, creates partnerships and utilizes social capital through community events.

The panelists shared how the work they are doing in each of their respective sectors uses technology to solve some of society's most pressing challenges and highlight the importance of tech literacy across every community.

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Here’s What To Do At LA Tech Week

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

Here’s What To Do At LA Tech Week
Evan Xie

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.


LA Hardtech: Local Talent Meets CEOs: Want to see robots in action? This hardtech event will showcase product demos and feature conversations about all things aircrafts, satellites, electric vehicles, robots and medical devices. June 5 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in El Segundo.

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