Green-Collar Graduations Show the Promise of Stimulus Funds (GreenBiz.com)

By Sarah Terry-Cobo

It's no secret that there is plenty of work ahead of us in moving the U.S. to a green economy. The trouble is not in finding people who need work, but rather in finding qualified and well trained workers to take on those jobs.

For companies facing a shortage of applicants, a promising solution is in the works: Green jobs training programs will make it easier for companies to make those hires, and federal, state and local projects are helping spread those nationwide.

As an added bonus, these programs will also make it easier for companies who prioritize hiring local, to meet their goals. Sun Light and Power, a solar panel installer based in Berkeley, Calif., thinks these green job training programs offer the best of both words:Workers that are both local and well trained.

"It's important for us to hire employees from the community because we believe in continuing to support learning and development after the training programs they've gone through," said Ellen Lee, Human Resources Director for Sun Light & Power.

The company has participated in green job training programs in the Bay Area, which allows them to have an influence in how potential employees are trained and participate in job development. And even though this may be a new concept for the green job sector, it is likely to become the trend.

Green for All, an Oakland-based non-profit organization, is working on a national level to influence public policy and help create similar green job training programs across the country. And Californians are starting to see the green economy light up, funded by federal stimulus dollars.

On June 29, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced $20 million in grants to 11 regional pilot projects as a part of the state-wide Green Job Corps program, which was launched in March.

"We are working around the clock to bring Recovery Act funding into California as quickly, effectively and responsibly as possible to stimulate our economy," said Governor Schwarzenegger in a prepared statement.

"Using Recovery funds and public-private partnerships, the California Green Jobs Corps will help 1,500 at-risk young adults realize a brighter future while stimulating our economy and working toward a greener California."

Funding for the program will include career training in: energy efficiency, solar power, green construction, and alternative automotive fuel, among other things, the Governor's office reports. In addition to job training, there will be a community service component, as well as civic education and environmental stewardship, said a representative with California Volunteers, the lead agency in charge of overseeing the California Green Jobs Corps.

The stimulus funding comes from Recovery Act Workforce Investment Act funds, of which 15 percent is part of the Governor's discretionary fund and was prioritized for the creation of the job corps program, said Jairo Moncada, communications manager with California Volunteers.

"[The California Green Job Corps program] gives us an opportunity to make sure we are putting the dollars to work," Moncada said in a telephone interview. Because green jobs are an emerging sector, the program is a way to ensure at-risk youth (ages 16 to 24) are prepared for the job market, a component of the Governor's plan to improve the economy.

California Volunteers is in an ideal situation to organize the program, "because our office has experience with public-private partnerships and leveraging state, local and federal resources," said William Ing, specialist for new initiatives with the Employment Development Department of the governor's office. In addition, the Volunteers program works with the Ing's office, which runs the grant program and administers funds on a daily basis, he said.

On a local level, each program will maintain partnerships with four types of entities: a community college or district, a local workforce investment board, a non-profit organization and a private employer. While it may seem like additional levels of bureaucracy, Ing said the partnerships are a flat design: one entity receives the grant money and works with partners to understand needs of both the students and the employers.

"We don't see that as an additional layer [of bureaucracy], we see that as a logical way of building a program," where four entities are working together, Ing said. For example, a non-profit could help the community college understand the needs of non-typical students, who might have been in the foster system or had contact with the criminal justice system. In addition, the private employer could provide feedback to the community college regarding to the skills future employees need for a particular industry.

What and Where the Green Jobs Are

While there is no concrete definition of "green-collar jobs," the flexibility of the term is important, so that local programs can use stimulus funds based on their own needs and conditions, Ing said. "We want to be supportive of local needs for different regions," he said, noting that demands in the Bay Area are likely to be very different than in the Central Valley or in Southern California.

The Governor's website even has an interactive map of Stimulus projects in the state.

These multi-faceted job-training programs are a part of the Obama Administration's policies, as well as the state of California's policies for economic development.

"President Obama and I share similar priorities right now when it comes to helping the economy rebound and creating a greener California and America," said Governor Schwarzenegger in a prepared statement in March.

But what will happen in the interim, while workers are being trained, before they are ready to enter the workforce?

"Despite the lag time, the Governor recognized that California will need thousands of skilled workers to fill the jobs of the emerging green economy," Moncada said in an email message. "The Green Jobs Corps will create a pipeline of trained and skilled workers that will be ready to step in to this emerging economy and it will help maintain an equilibrium between supply (of skilled workers) and demand (for skilled workers)."

The state's program, however, was modeled after Oakland's Green Job Corps program, which was designed by a local non-profit, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. The training program, a public-private partnership includes: Cypress Mandela Training Center, a pre-apprenticeship program, Laney College, a community college, and Growth Sector, a workforce intermediary that helps place students.

The program evolved from one of the Ella Baker Center's campaigns, called Green-Collar Jobs, which celebrated its first graduating class from the job corps on June 22. The group of 40 people received 18 hours of college credit from Laney. However small it may seem, the graduation is significant because it serves as a model for the nation, said Emily Kirsch, coordinator for the Green-Collar Jobs campaign.

"Oakland, like many cities, is facing many challenges such as budget deficits, drop-out rates for high school students and crime. But despite this, Oakland has come together with labor, business, and the city itself to create a model program that can be replicated in similar cities through the country."

As of last Monday's graduation ceremony, four trainees have been placed with local companies, and 20 more are currently in the selection process for jobs in the solar and weatherization industries, said Caz Pereira, director of Growth Sector.

Part of what made the job corps program successful is the formation of the Oakland Green Employer Council, Kirsch said. These 12 businesses and non-profits work in the sectors of energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building, and can provide input to training curriculum, as well as have access to well-trained, potential employees, she said.

Green Job Training is Only the Beginning

Aware of the magnitude of the situation, Kirsch acknowledges that the first graduating class is only a small step in creating viable economic opportunities for low-income communities that often suffer the effects of pollution and have the highest unemployment rates. A program like Oakland's needs to be brought to a national scale, she said.

"It's great that 40 people are trained, but there are 10,000 unemployed people in Oakland," Kirsch said. "[The graduation is] an opportunity to celebrate but, also is an opportunity to say we there is a lot we need to do," which is why the Ella Baker Center is so lucky to have Green For All at national level to influence policy, she said.

Green for All evolved from the Ella Baker Center's Green-Collar Jobs campaign, but grew so big it needed its own office. And Van Jones, founder of both Green for All and the Ella Baker Center, is now in the Obama Cabinet. Having Jones in the White House is beneficial to both the national and local green jobs campaigns, Kirsch said.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All, commented on the organization's work in an email message.

"Green For All's emphasis is on communities with barriers to employment, so that is reflective of the organizations that are part of our Community of Practice, a Green For All program that links job training providers so they can learn from each other and share best practices on how to train populations with barriers, connect them to jobs, and more."

The non-profit helped to pass the Green Jobs Act in 2007, which helps create and fund training programs for green jobs.

"Such programs promise to be the first step out of poverty for many who are in desperate need of work," Ellis-Lamkins said in an email.

Most recently, the organization's grassroots networking helped to include a local hiring provision, amended by Representative Bobby Rush, in the American Clean Energy and Security act (ACES), which passed the House on June 26. Ellis-Lamkins said this is the first time a local-hire clause was included in federal legislation.

On a state level, Green For All helped to pass SB 5659 in Washington, which will prioritize weatherization and energy efficiency jobs for veterans, National Guard members, and low-income populations, she said. In New Mexico, the organization helped to pass HB 622, which provides bond revenue for green jobs training programs with a focus on disadvantaged, rural and tribal communities, Ellis-Lamkins said.

And while these state and municipal successes are a boon to local economies, the ACES bill still must pass through the Senate, and could face tough opposition. Ellis-Lamkins believes that green jobs are an integral part of improving the economy and the environment, but admits influencing federal legislation is not easy.

"It is still an uphill battle, despite all the economic analysis that we have seen that tells us that transitioning to a clean energy economy will benefit our economy," she said. "Powerful interests continue spreading the message that this transition will put our economy further down the hole and make the poor even poorer."

In an effort to counter this message, Green for All has created pamphlets to help cities ensure that Recovery funds spent on weatherization and energy efficiency programs create jobs that have will "[maximize] their impact on the environment, the economy, and the unemployment rates," Ellis-Lamkins said.

And while local successes may seem small when facing record unemployment rates and volatile energy prices, Sun Light and Power has the experience to show public-private partnerships can matter to their business.

The solar panel installer began work with a similar green job training program, Solar Richmond, in which some trainees were hired and are still currently on staff, said Lee in an email message.

Not only is local hiring a vital part of Sun Light and Power's corporate culture, "we believe in providing work opportunities in our communities because it's our neighborhood and we care about the people who live here," Lee, the HR director said in an email message.