Green Jobs Initiative unites forces for equitable access to clean energy careers

By Elena Foshay

This summer, CEE joined Climate Generation to launch the Green Jobs Initiative — bringing together students, educators, businesses, and community partners to create equitable pathways to family-sustaining careers in the clean energy economy.

According to Climate Generation, Minnesota is at a crossroads. From 2005 to 2015 our state increased its clean energy generation from 6% to over 21%, and the number is still growing. Estimates indicate that in the next 15 years Minnesota’s economy will add at least 25,000 new clean energy jobs, generating more than $2 billion in additional wages.

While this has the potential to translate to additional family-supporting careers and millions in tax revenue for communities, another big question on the table is whether Minnesota can use this opportunity to tackle current equity disparities. We can help with that by ensuring that Minnesota has a competent, well-trained workforce ready for the new green economy.

The Green Jobs Initiative hosted its first stakeholder meeting last July. The meeting was organized by representatives from five local organizations: Janet Brown, Climate Generation; Bree Halverson, BlueGreen Alliance; Megan O’Hara, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light; Jamez Staples, Renewable Energy Partners; and me for CEE. Over 30 attendees shared their views and ideas for a just and sustainable green jobs transition here in Minnesota.

Organizers had four main goals for the summer meeting:

  • Develop a shared understanding of green jobs.
  • Share perspectives on what a just and equitable green jobs economy might look like.
  • Discuss and assess the current green jobs landscape.
  • Create an initial collaborative vision and articulate a shared opportunity.

A Green Jobs Success Story

After the group discussed the definition of “green jobs” and shared presentations on the current state of green jobs in Minnesota, I provided an example of a collaborative success story from California.

Green Energy Training Services (GETS) was launched in 2008 by Rising Sun Energy Center, a Berkeley-based nonprofit. In response to energy efficiency job growth fueled by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Rising Sun created an 80-hour energy efficiency training program aimed at adults with barriers to employment. Over time, GETS evolved into a pre-apprenticeship job training program that readied individuals for work in energy efficiency and the building trades. GETS added solar PV installer training in 2014 and launched an all-women pre-apprenticeship training class in 2016.

To date, GETS has trained more than 685 participants. And an impressive 82% percent of GETS graduates are placed into employment, with $19.55 average hourly starting wage.

Minnesota can draw many lessons from this example. GETS succeeds because the program regularly evolves their training model in response to industry demand, and constantly updates its curriculum based on specific skills their employer partners seek in their workforce.

The majority of energy efficiency work is folded into the traditional construction trades, so building trades unions offer the best opportunities for well-paid, career-track jobs in the industry — and these employers also care about “soft skills” like professionalism, creative problem solving, and teamwork. More and more, workers need to be grounded in both eco-literacy and building science, as well as comfortable with using computers and technology in their day-to-day work.

Barriers to employment are persistent and require ongoing, individualized wraparound support to help individuals obtain and retain long-term, stable employment. Case management, partnership with social service agencies and employers, and peer support are critical components of any job training program that seeks to tackle equity disparities.

Next Steps for Minnesota

After a productive first meeting, the group identified several next steps:

  1. First, we need additional research to identify our clean energy workforce’s needs and gaps, with a particular focus on identifying barriers to equitable access.
  2. Next, we’ll need to identify policy and program solutions to address gaps and barriers.
  3. We also need to build stronger collaboration between all the different individuals and groups who are already focusing on equitable career pathways and the clean energy workforce.
  4. And to make long-term progress we’ll need leadership to bring all these pieces together, building partnerships that can better align and coordinate resources.

The Green Jobs Initiative gives us a platform for organizing and moving forward, which gives me hope. If we tackle the challenges in the steps above, I see a future with durable and high-quality career pathways into the clean energy sector that are accessible to all Minnesotans.

Read the full article online here.

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